(2) Learning About Black Reproductive and Maternal Health

I recently learned about the troubling statistics that pregnant Black women are three to four times more likely to die than their counterparts, while 60% of those deaths were preventable, according to the CDC. In spite of the disproportion of healthcare and health rights, not enough has been done to truly revolutionize the safety and wellness of Black mothers and babies within the healthcare system. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black maternal health crisis has only worsened due to limited resources and education provided for Black mothers in need of security. 

Brandeis Black Maternal Health Logo 2021 – Property of BBMH

There are many stories about difficult pregnancies with no or minor prior health issues, unresponsive medical staff who ignore mothers’ concerns, and a lack of knowledge about the resources available to make the birthing and pregnancy process more safe and comfortable. There were many misconceptions that this issue mostly impacted poor, uneducated women, but some of today’s most well-known Black women such as Beyonce and Serena Williams have shared similar experiences. Learning all this motivated me to explore reproductive and maternal education opportunities in the Boston area.

The Resilient Sisterhood Project was one of the few reproductive-focused nonprofits in Boston that I came across, which is why their work is so valuable! As I studied in my HSSP courses, health factors, racial and environmental barriers all contribute to health inequalities and the challenge of obtaining and accessing quality healthcare for many Black women and families around the country even within our local community. But like many health disparities faced by people of color, Black maternal disparities can be avoided and improved through education and awareness. Even though this internship is completely remote, it’s interesting to see the many strategies RSP has implemented to create their online presence and ensure that their work is attainable and accessible to the public.

 There are numerous approaches to reducing healthcare disparities, such as providing remote access to reproductive health information. COVID-19 has changed the experience of in-person internships, but this summer challenged me to venture beyond my comfort zone and develop new skills such as graphic design, content writing, blog posting, and more. As I mentioned in my first blog, I am developing a research project based on the lack of preconception health education among Black women, which can contribute to the high death rate. RSP has allowed me to come up with innovative ways to grab the attention and awareness of young Black women through podcasts and circle gatherings. I hope to continue and expand on this way of communicating in order to create various projects that serve Black women, Black babies, Black families, and coming generations.

As my internship comes to an end, I am considering how I can bring what I learned from RSP back to Brandeis and expand the goals of educating prospective STEM professionals on Black maternal and reproductive health. Altogether, I am grateful for this opportunity, the networks, the experience, and the mentorship from the team of women who have had an influence in public health.

(1) Creating Windows Into Black Reproductive Health

A Bond of Sisterhood, 2019, by Jules Arthur – Property of Resilient Sisterhood

This summer will undoubtedly be memorable! I’ve always aspired to be an advocate, a source of empowerment, and an innovator, and during my internship at the Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP), I’ve been flooded with sisterly mentorships and advice on how I can become that leader. Prior to interning at RSP, the women of my family shared similar experiences of maternal complications, which helped me survive and prepare for Black womanhood and a professional career as a health administrator. Nevertheless, it is good to have examples of resilience, healing, and grieving to create spaces for young Black individuals like myself to understand our interconnected identities. These anecdotes and real-life experiences can be used to formulate policies, resolutions, and cultural competency in the medical field, which is why I am grateful to be a part of RSP, a Boston-based reproductive non-profit! 

RSP was founded in 2012 by Lilly Marcelin, who has dedicated her career to furthering reproductive health education and access. Their mission is to educate and empower women of African descent regarding common but rarely discussed diseases of the reproductive system that disproportionately affect them. RSP approaches these diseases and associated issues through a cultural and social justice lens. They believe that poor knowledge of reproductive health is primarily related to health, racial, and socioeconomic disparities. These diseases include: uterine fibroids, endometriosis, infertility, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, as well as breast, cervical, ovarian, and uterine cancers. Their slogan, “Creating windows into reproductive health,” exemplifies their work with Black women and young adults to address health and medical inequities based on deeply-rooted racial discrimination, oppressive cultural/gender norms, environmental/food injustice, and other social determinants of health that perpetuate the silence, secrecy, and inaction surrounding these diseases. 

Sisterly Resistance, 2019, by Jules Arthur – Property of Resilient Sisterhood 

The Resilient Sisterhood Project has a Youth Advisory Leadership Council, which is made up of young professional women of color from Boston and Washington, D.C. who work with RSP staff to raise awareness about reproductive health concerns that affect women of color. RSP is building safe spaces for young Black women and extending the notion of early access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, RSP has many strategies for addressing injustice, such as hosting multiple webinars and events about reproductive health conditions such as “The Harm of Medical Racism as Experienced by Black Women Physicians,” “Exploring the Intersection of COVID19,” and more.

As a summer intern, I am conducting a research project on preconception health awareness of Black women ages 21 to 40. Preconception refers to the health of one during their reproductive years, when they are able to produce a child. It focuses on taking measures to protect the health of a baby they may have in the future. It also entails understanding how certain health issues and risk factors may affect a pregnancy and an unborn child. Some foods and lifestyle choices—even certain natural hair and makeup products—can harm your baby even before he or she is conceived. Myself and the RSP team will be distributing a survey on preconception health in the coming weeks. To end my internship, I will create a resource guide and podcast regarding preconception health for Black women, which will both be published on the RSP website.

Overall, I have learned a lot in a short period of time. RSP has taught me about the professionalism that comes with working in a nonprofit, particularly in public health. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn these skills early on, such as how to write and design a research project, as well as how to create a health-based resources guide for Black women. I am excited to see the end product of this project on the RSP website! Although my project is only a small part of what needs to be done, it all contributes to improving reproductive health access and equity, which serves to the greater RSP vision. 

Introducing the 2022 WOW Fellows

Monica Alfaro– Social Justice Award

Priscilla Appenteng– Social Justice Award

Ligia Azevedo– Social Justice Award

Audri Bhowmick– Universal Award

Jovana Bijelic– Social Justice Award

Jenna Blocher– Social Justice Award

Lilian Bresler– Social Justice Award

Xavier Butler– Social Justice Award

Bonnie Chen– Social Justice Award

Emanuel Cohen– Politics/Public Service Award

Ori Cohen– Universal Award

Erickson Comas Hernandez– Social Justice Award

Jennifer Crystal– Theater, Writing, &  Creative Arts Award

Lia Dankowicz– Jewish Service Award

Esther Daube-Valois– Women’s Rights & Education Award

Ava Faria– Social Justice Award

Eric Feigen– Social Justice Award

Joshua Gans– Universal Award

Peyton Gillespie– Social Justice Award

Joshua Gladstone– Social Justice Award

Deb Haimowitz– Social Justice Award

Anna Hirsh– Social Justice Award

Jasmine Huang Fu– Social Justice Award

Eli Issokson– Arts Award

Gabriela Katz– Social Justice Award

Norah Khadraoui– Senior/Immigrant Community Service Award

Casey Lindemann– Social Justice Award

Allissa Masse– Social Justice Award

Alaysia Penso– Arts Award

Lucca Raabe– Social Justice Award

Juliana Rivera– Universal Award

Ilannysh Rodriguez– Social Work Award

Catherine Romero– Social Justice Award

Anthony Ruiz– Social Justice Award

Natalie Sadek– Social Justice Award

Amy Schroder– Social Justice Award

Arielle Schutt– Universal Award

Jessica Schwartzman– Politics/Public Service Award

Micah Seigel– Social Justice Award

Forrest Shimazu– Climate Change Award

Ruby Siegel– Social Justice Award

Krupa Sourirajan– Jewish Service Award

Hannah Spear– Universal Award

Jessica Umanoff– Social Justice Award

Dee Whyte– Social Justice Award