By: Ruchi Patel, Northwestern’s Applied Practice Experience Intern for Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH)
All In Data for Community Health hosted a showcase webinar, Building Community Capacity by Sharing Power, Storytelling, & Systems Change, on April 21st, 2021. The recorded session, resource guide, and PowerPoint presentation slides accompanying the webinar can be found on the All In website.
This summary provides 4 takeaways on racial health equity, focusing on the barriers Black mothers face regarding maternal and infant health outcomes and how two organizations have created spaces for Black women’s voices to be heard and drive changes within institutions. This discussion was initiated by Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith, the Director of Equity and Community Strategies at Cradle Cincinnati, Queens Village, and Brittney Mosley, the Community Health Director at the Mississippi State Department of Health. This webinar was moderated by Ninma Fearson, senior associate for the Health Impact Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, an All In partner.
The topic of this webinar was how increasing community capacity could catalyze health equity. Dr. Shockley-Smith and Brittney Mosley shared their insights into how their work leads to the engagement of Black women and holding institutions and systems accountable to reduce racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. Some of the primary goals among each organization included reducing racism and racial disparities associated with infant and maternal mortality rates; and creating sustainable system changes within multi-sector groups.
- Establishing collaborations among multi-sector groups enabled Shockley-Smith and Mosley to work with allies to break institutional and systemic barriers creating equitable opportunities for Black women. Black women are not being heard by their physicians and society when it comes to their own health. Birth outcomes for Black women are drastically different compared to White women, as they are not receiving emotional support before and after pregnancy. As a result, they needed external partners such as the department of transportation, the department of education, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, and the Mississippi Public Health Institute to be involved in change.
The Mississippi State Department of Health also involved the following organizations as part of their home team for partnerships:
- the Meridian Freedom Project as a community liaison,
- United Way
- Mississippi State University
- EC Health Net
- food pantries
- faith-based organizations
- WIC centers
“Because of that … strong Black women’s mentality, ‘oh it can’t be that bad”, complaining or ‘you’re stronger than you think’ that kind of concept really impacts outcomes of birth. We get at having to make the value of women, the voices of Black women, be important to everyone including medical professionals, but also to society at large. I want to walk around in a Black body and be valued.” –Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith
2. Both speakers discussed the importance of capacity building as racism, and explicit bias commonly occurs in the health workforce. By sitting together and discussing, women can openly share their issues and create a vision for this movement with the Queens Village Board. This is what centering Black women looks like, as they express their needs for their own health. Bringing together community members with other stakeholders to share concerns, skills, and knowledge can empower communities to create sustainable goals in different ecological levels of health.
3. By increasing shared power towards communities, more funding or infrastructure can be provided directly to these causes, reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. Funders came to the Queens Village board and asked how they would like to see the money being spent. By opening up possibilities to the community, they can achieve increased levels of health initiatives as they are the individuals who know the health status of the community members and can prioritize funds as they see fit.
“At this table there are queens, so there are community members who are on boards. There are queens who are not board members and there are staff members on the Queen’s Village board who are taking notes about conversations about what the movement should look like. That’s what we mean when we say ‘centering Black women’.”- Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith
4. Another key takeaway is the value of advisory boards, which provide support and guidance to community stakeholders. The community advisory board outreached to Black women to better understand their needs and barriers to identify the root causes of infant and maternal disparities. Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith mentions how Queens Village used a community advisory board and community-based participatory research (CBPR) to continually center Black women to know what resources they need to reach a level of health equity.
You can find additional resources and approaches to building community power and improving maternal health outcomes within the All In Network. A Trailblazer talk was given during the All In National Meeting 2020 titled “Disrupting Business: Building a Community-led Movement to Address Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality” highlights the importance of qualitative data and community engagement methods to improve maternal health and eliminate infant mortality. This talk was presented by Lora Gulley and Alecia Deal of FLOURISH, an initiative powered by Generate Health, with the goal to reduce infant mortality in St. Louis. One FLOURISH community change project focused on providing resources to Black pregnant and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked with the St. Louis Metro Market to supply fresh produce to women during their pregnancy and distributed essential care packages to families who may not have had access to resources for their newborns. Lora Gulley described their community leaders cabinet (CLC), which comprises community residents who either live in high-impact zip codes or have lived through adverse birth outcomes. These individuals can decide on the key priorities that Generate Health should focus on and invest their time and funding on. Using the CLC allows community members to advocate for their needs and make sure that resources are being distributed equitably.