Associate Director, California Preterm Birth Initiative
I actually started my career focusing on nutrition and dietetics. I always knew I wanted to improve health outcomes for Black and Brown pregnant people. I particularly wanted to have an impact during pregnancy because, in my mind, that was a really special space to create lasting change. An intervention that has a positive impact during pregnancy can build a legacy for the next generation to come. I wanted to do that through nutrition, healthy eating, and fitness. Because what I saw in my community when I was growing up in the South Bronx was that a lot of outcomes were really impacted by what you ate, or your ability to move around.
Before PTBi, I was often told that I couldn’t merge community engagement with research and data. I had to pick one. And I was so against it, I couldn’t understand why I had to choose one path over the other. I wouldn’t accept it.
And so, I went out of my way to speak to different people whose work I admired. One of those people ended up being Dr. Monica McLemore, who introduced me to the SOLARS study. As a graduate student researcher, I was able to experience what it was like to engage in community partnered research — which I already knew was very possible and very important. My education, my experiences, and my professional development thus far have put me in a position to make that same connection for others. The pathway to advance birth justice and racial equity requires a multi-pronged approach that pairs community partnership and research together. We can’t do one without the other if we want to really see meaningful change.
Despite its recognized importance, this approach is not something that’s done often or well when addressing health inequities. Birth research, when done well, can have such an incredible impact. Producing data and findings that support innovative efforts like the Abundant Birth Project, publishing research, and cultivating partnerships that support policy changes like AB2258, SB464, and SB65.
My goal as Associate Director of PTBi — and in the future — is really to empower organizations and agencies, initiatives and leaders to address racism as the root cause of health disparities through solutions that are sustainable, and community-partnered, and merge these important strategies together for it to be successful. That is my goal.
This is something that too often goes unnoticed: The mentorship and valuing of Black women in research in positions like mine. It is not talked about in the field of public health and in maternal, child, and adolescent health. And it’s not just about representation, it’s also about honoring the fact that everybody has a unique experience that they can bring to the table, along with our education and training. It’s important to have a diversity of people and a diversity of thought, but most of all we have to have those sitting at the table directly reflect the populations we serve.
Being a Black woman and a person who is of reproductive age, I don’t just come to the table as somebody who studied public health and has this passion for Black women’s birth outcomes. I also come to the table with my lived experience, i.e. the ways that I’m experiencing structural racism which absolutely impact the way I’m doing my work, my viewpoints, my theories, and my strategies. That is something that should be welcomed and encouraged. That has been the case for me – unfortunately, it is unique, and I wish it wasn’t so rare. I want to see more investment in the mentorship of Black women in this field.
Being able to have the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Monica McLemore [Link to her story], Dr. Brittany Chambers [Link to her story], Dr. Zea Malawa, and Alexis Cobbins [Link to her story] has changed the trajectory of my career.
Before them, whenever I wanted to do something innovative or new, someone would tell me that I couldn’t, or I shouldn’t, or that it wouldn’t work out that way. Being lucky enough to have been invested in and poured into by Black women in leadership positions has been life-changing and has allowed me to see what’s possible. And now I see this as a part of my role: Pay it forward, carry that baton, and do the same for other Black women in this space and other women of color in this space. That’s something we just need to highlight more and see more of. I am really, really passionate about that.
I would say always trust your gut. The same way we tell others to listen to Black women and trust Black women — we have to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves. We know what’s best for us and we know when we are experiencing something that doesn’t feel right, or when someone is closing the door on us.
We have to trust ourselves and also actively seek out those who wish to protect us. In our public health work on our end, we can do all that we can to improve the environment around a birthing person. But that takes research, it takes time, it’s slow-moving. In the interim, I would tell a BIPOC birthing person to really trust themselves and surround themselves with people that listen to them, trust them, love them, care about them, want to protect them. Seek out vetted resources. Resources you know that your sister or your aunt says worked for them and they had a positive experience. I would trust that and yourself. That’s my advice for BIPOC birthing people.