An Island in the Midwest: Illinois’ Abortion Policies

Author: Esther Bier, MPH candidate in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

Illinois is an island in the Midwest for abortion access. Surrounding states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan all have more restrictive abortion legislation than Illinois. Wisconsin mandates state-sanction counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before someone can terminate their pregnancy1. Indiana recently outlawed the common and safe second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation while permitting medical providers to refuse to participate in abortion care services2. Meanwhile, a recent bill in Ohio would ban almost all private insurance policies from covering abortion care3. And in Michigan, telemedicine is prohibited from managing medical abortions – an issue critical for rural and poorer pregnant people4. Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all require that a parent or guardian give a minor permission to have an abortion. Kansas and Minnesota require parental consent from both parents5. Considering the sea of abortion restrictions in states surrounding Illinois, it is no wonder that more than 5,500 out-of-state pregnant people travelled to Illinois to receive abortion care in 20176.

In contrast, a person can receive an abortion in Illinois without completing state-mandated counseling, a 24-72 hour waiting period, or a government-required ultrasound. Crucially, while minors are not required to provide parental consent to access abortion, they are required to give notice to a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or stepparent. On the surface, such a policy may seem reasonable, with the intention of improving communication and support between parents and children. If minors need parental support to attend a field trip or fill a cavity, surely they should be required to consult a parent about their choice to have an abortion. Many supporters of the law use their own children and their hypothetical pregnancies to bolster their support: “I would want my child to talk to me, wouldn’t you?” or “I should be involved in my child’s healthcare, as is every parent’s right”.

While such simplistic statements seem reasonable on the surface, one must consider the law’s dangerous implications. Minors who feel comfortable discussing their desire for an abortion with a parent do not need a law forcing them to do so. Conversely, minors who feel unsafe telling a parent they are pregnant and obtaining an abortion likely feel scared for legitimate reasons. Minors might fear violence or abandonment from a parent if they are discovered to be pregnant. They might be kicked out from home. They might fear retaliation in the form of economic abuse or neglect. Consider the fact that state-mandated dialogue between minors and their parents do not yield a supporting and communicative relationship. The state of Illinois is therefore placing these minors in highly unsafe terrain by forcing them to tell their parent or guardian that they are pregnant.

Enter the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project by the ACLU of Illinois. Minors who do not qualify for a legal (like if they are married) or medical emergency exception can have the parental notification requirement waived by a judge. The ACLU provides free legal services to minors who seek such waivers as well as a hotline service for callers to receive information about the program. I am a volunteer on this hotline every other week for two and a half hours. Volunteers are trained to understand the details of the parental notification law as well as how to discuss such intricacies for young people likely in the midst of a lonely and scary struggle. While receiving a legitimate phone call from a minor looking for legal services is uncommon during my shifts, it is important that the hotline exists and is ready to provide answers to pregnant people and their significant others in need.

I recently attending the ACLU of Illinois annual luncheon to celebrate their successes and the legal battles ahead. The hotel ballroom was packed with roughly two thousand people and a stage filled with headliner performances. Speech topics ranged from immigration to trans rights to voting access. In my own experience, abortion is not directly mentioned in large gathering such as this; lesser charged language such as “women’s rights” or “reproductive freedom” is used. I was therefore surprised when multiple speakers directly mentioned abortion access as a current and pressing issue for the ACLU. Representative Jan Schakowsky spoke passionately about repealing the Hyde Amendment (the federal law that bans federal money from paying for abortions) and making abortion care more accessible. She received a round of applause when she said that “Roe was not the beginning of abortion in the US, it was the end of women dying from abortion.” Similarly, Colleen Connell, the executive director of ACLU of Illinois, spoke of the nation-wide attempt to reverse Roe – the very law that allowed so many people access to jobs, income, and professional development. Roe underpins the right to access appropriate medical services, to raise or not raise a child, and to bodily autonomy and education. Reversing Roe would signal an end to personal freedom and devaluation for all people who can become pregnant.

This is why I volunteer for the Judicial Bypass hotline and the ACLU: everyone deserves the right to live the life they chose. Access to healthcare and insurance should not be dependent on one’s zip code and immigration status. Everyone should enjoy bodily autonomy, regardless of age. If there is one concept I have learned during my first year as an master of public health student, it is that the health of an individual impacts the health of the larger society. When people are given the tools to succeed, their communities prosper and their health outcomes improve. This is what public health is fighting for and why I am in the fight for the long haul.



  1. Carafem. Abortion Access in Wisconsin. Carafem Web site. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  2. Gupta P. Indiana Strikes a Blow to the Heart of Abortion Access. The Slot Web site. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  3. North A. The Controversial Abortion Bills Sweep the Country this Week, Explained. Vox Web site. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  4. Guttmacher Institute. State Facts about Abortion: Michigan. 2018.
  5. Planned Parenthood. Parental Consent and Notification Laws. 2019.
  6. Leventis Lourgos A. More than 5,500 Women came to Illinois to have an Abortion Last Year Amid Growing Restrictions in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune. November 20 2018. Available from:

MCH Trainees Visit IL Senators

On April 3, 2019, The UIC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health, along with the IL LEND Program, visited the offices of Senator Duckworth and Senator Durbin to share the impact that these two MCHB-funded workforce development programs have on maternal and child health populations. Below are the reflections of two MCH trainees, Izzy Litwack and Channon Campbell following these visits.

Izzy Litwack, MPH Candidate

When I first began my MPH journey with the Center of Excellence (CoE) in Maternal and Child Health (MCH), I had no idea what that really meant. I had never heard of Title V before, and did not understand what a “training center” entailed. Throughout my two years in the MCH concentration, I have been exposed and integrated into the field of maternal and child health and I am confident I will continue to benefit from my involvement with the CoE-MCH. When I was asked to go to the offices of Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth, I was honored to be given the chance to educate key stakeholders on all that the CoE-MCH taught me. Walking into the offices of such important people brought out so many feelings: nervousness, anxiety, and excited jitters. However, being able to stand side-by-side with Cindy and Arden, my classmate Channon, and the fantastic people from the LEND program took much of that away. I felt like I was able to share with others who are experts in maternal and child health and showcase one of the best maternal and child health training centers. I am so thankful to for the opportunity to explain to Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth’s teams why the UIC Center of Excellence has prepared me to enter the public health work field, the impact it has had on MCH communities in both Chicago, Illinois and Region V, and why this training center will continue to thrive!

Channon Campbell, MSN, MPH Candidate

As my program comes to a close, I have been reflecting on just how fulfilled and enlightened I have felt throughout my journey at the University of Illinois at Chicago, (UIC) School of Public Health, Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health (MCH). There was nothing more I wanted than to be in the Maternal and Child Health concentration at UIC and when that was finally realized, I was elated. Continuing on through this program with the distinction of being a MCH Trainee has not only changed my life but has also allowed me to impact the lives of others. It has prepared me to better serve MCH populations across Illinois and beyond. It is truly a privilege to be an MCH Trainee at UIC’s Center of Excellence. When I was asked to attend the offices of Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth to shed light on and the Center, I felt great pride and honor to be able to speak about not only what I have learned but also all that the Center of Excellence does.  While I was extremely nervous, I was also very excited, especially hearing my advisors, professors and peers speak to their experiences and work they do. The teams, Senator Duckworth’s and Senator Durbin’s, looked to us as critical information providers on key issues impacting maternal and child health, the necessity of our program and how integral we, LEND and the Center of Excellence, are in preparing the MCH workforce and serving these populations. It was also affirming to hear that many of the initiatives supported by our senators are some of issues and topics near and dear to my heart, such as equity for black mothers and vaccinations. This program has provided me with the knowledge and tools to be among the best public health professionals, especially in maternal and child health, and I know that the Senators’ teams felt and understood this. We communicated with confidence that this training center matters and is pivotal to the health of MCH populations. I am so very thankful for this opportunity and grateful to be an MCH Trainee at UIC.


How Dehumanization Builds Power and Brings Violence

Authors: Esther Bier, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health &

Gabrielle Lodge, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

One might not expect a U.S. slave trade exhibit to be housed in a Holocaust Museum. Yet on a dreary Saturday afternoon in the middle of Black History Month, roughly 100 people attended a guided tour of the exhibit entitled “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808-1865” within the Illinois Holocaust Museum. The exhibit walls were adorned with inventory lists of people for sale, images of living quarters of enslaved people, and testimonials of enslaved people. A large rectangular wooden crate served as a replication of the stage on which the enslaved were auctioned next to original photos of Black people standing atop the original structure. A metal choker, complete with hinges and a lock, was encased in glass a few feet away. Two horn-like metal structures topped with bells rose out vertically from the choker, once used to ensure that an enslaved person was as recognizable as they were loud.

The exhibit focused on the transactional nature of slavery, with specific attention paid to how the invention of the cotton gin and the prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade intensified the economic incentives of slave labor. Invented in 1793, the cotton gin expedited the separation of cotton fibers from seeds, increasing demand for cotton processing and bodies to work the land (The History Channel, 2018). Meanwhile, the abolition of the continued import of new slaves in 1808 meant that slaves already in the US were of greater value. With a “limited supply” and higher demand, slaves were a hot commodity. Signage, at the time tacked to trees and buildings, listed upcoming slaves auctions and proudly displayed the monetary value of humans. Attending a slave auction was a social affair for modern Whites, who were pictured in formal clothing worthy of their slave-owning status.

Slavery was the foundation of the antebellum Southern economy and an ever-present feature in New Orleans where thousands of slaves were transported on the Mississippi River. Every aspect of the New Orleans economy depended on slavery, either directly or indirectly. Doctors profited from treating ill slaves whose masters were intent on selling healthy human subjects. Clothing retailers (such as Brooks Brothers) profited from manufacturing slave uniforms worn in the house and on the fields. Banks profited by financing loans necessary to acquire slaves. Steamboat companies provided the vessels that transported kidnapped Africans to American shores(Illinois Holocaust Museum, 2019). In this manner, all white people (whether slave owners or not) financially benefited from the slave trade and depended on its survival.

This economic theme exemplified why this exhibit fit within the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Slavery was a system predicated on dehumanizing a class of people considered inferior. The commodification of “sub-humans” ensured free labor that lined the pockets of White people and helped ensure success to their descendants. The subservience of Black people was justified through the bible, science, and lore until the buying and selling of people became quotidian. This hatred of the “other” that spurred dehumanization is the same hatred that justified Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. While there are multiple differences, the violence and trauma of the Holocaust is an extension of the violence and trauma of slavery.

After successfully dehumanizing enslaved people, White people profited off Black bodies – particularly Black women’s bodies – in addition to their labor. “The slave owner’s exploitation of the Black woman’s sexuality was one of the most significant factors differentiating the experience of slavery for males and females” (PBS, 2004). Forcing Black enslave women to give birth, a practice known as “slave breeding,” that was as common as it was lucrative. In this manner, slave populations increased through reproduction despite the discontinuation of the transatlantic slave trade. Enslaved parents lived in daily fear that their enslaved children could be taken from them at any moment (Brown, 2018).

The United States has a long history of controlling women’s bodies and separating families. Children born into slavery could be bought and sold at will by their slave owners. In the 1800’s Native American children were routinely separated from their families and forced to attend boarding schools to facilitate assimilation into “civilized” life (Brown, 2018). After the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. government forced Japanese families to relocate to internment camps, uprooting entire communities of mostly American citizens (Purtill, 2018). Just last summer, the U.S. separated parents from their children at the southern border to deter illegal border crossing, despite such a policy violating international law (Cumming-Bruce, 2018). This pattern of separation serves a racist agenda intent on eradicating anyone deemed foreign and forcing anyone who remains to assimilate.  

The ramifications of these racist policies remain to this day. Police brutality, food insecurity, and school closures disproportionately afflict communities of color. Today, one out of every ten Black children has an incarcerated parent (Hager, 2017). Regardless of educational attainment and financial status, maternal mortality kills more Black women than white women (Villarosa, 2018). Our culture of intolerance and racism is literally tearing families apart and killing people. The “Purchased Lives” exhibit demonstrates that the hatred underpinning slavery did not end with the abolition of slavery. Such hatred perpetuates White Supremacy while inspiring genocide, oppression, and generations of trauma. It is the resulting trauma and oppression that public health seeks to address and ameliorate. Despite the sluggish pace of change, this pressing work beckons us to envision and create a world built on love, not hate.

Purchased Live: The American Slave Trade from 1808-1865 is open until August 25th 2019. Admission is free on Saturdays and every 10th of the month.


  • Villarosa, L. (2018, April 11,). Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in a Life-or-Death Crisis. The New York Times Retrieved from


Reflections on “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements”

Author:  Gabrielle Lodge, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

Charlene Carruthers is a black queer feminist activist and organizer with over 15 years of experience in racial justice, feminist and youth leadership development movement work. On Thursday February 7th, 2019, the UIC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health hosted Carruthers to give a lecture about her book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. This blog post is a synthesis of that event and my reflections on both that event and Carruthers’ book. Carruthers sought to write a book for long-time movement builders and activists, for those curious about those doing the work, and how to get involved. As a young organizer and leader for BYP 100, Charlene found herself hungry for the history of other organizers and activists that created the path for her own activism. Carruthers started her lecture by sharing a quote by Toni Morrison, “If there is a book that you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, you have to go out and write it” (Carruthers, 2019). With that inspiration, and after writing and reflecting for 4.5 years, Charlene set out to do just that with Unapologetic.

In Charlene’s first chapter titled “All of Us or None of Us”, she quotes the Combahee River Collective. The Combahee River Collective was founded by black feminists and lesbians that explored the intersection of multiple oppressions, including racism and heterosexism (Anders, 2012). This organization was active in Boston from 1974 to 1980. Carruthers quotes the work of the Combahee River Collective: “‘This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity… If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression’” (Carruthers, 2018, p. 1). This quote awakened me, as a black queer Muslim woman, to understanding how black liberation leads to collective liberation. I became hyperly aware of how the work I do and other folks do with the most marginalized communities can mean freedom for all. Moreover, this became personal for me, as I have specific identities that intersect that are relevant and, in a way, the commitment to this work also means liberation for me as well for a collective. I also realized that my role in maternal and child health is not as siloed as I thought it was. Understanding and demanding equity for black women’s health, specifically related to maternal mortality, is all connected and can be a catalyst to liberation.

Charlene read the quote shared above and after reading this quote, she spoke about identity politics in the U.S. which are rooted from lived experiences that impact how people act in the world. Carruthers makes a distinction in her lecture by stating that “just because you have a particular identity does not mean you are right about everything and/or have the best analysis in the room” (Carruthers, 2019). She furthers this by stating that “It is a choice to pick up a set of political values; However, it does take study to have a wide view of the structural conditions that we live under” (Carruthers, 2019). I was drawn to this point for many reasons. To start, it reminded me of the importance of having a collaborative approach when organizing and including many voices. I also reflected on my own intersecting identities, many which are accompanied by oppressive forces. However, even in recognizing that, I understand that my role is fluid within the fight for justice and that it means that I am not always the best fit to lead on an issue. We each have to find our own place in the movement and that is part of the work. I understand that living in a hierarchical society places power and privilege given to those in leadership roles and that is problematic. I hope to complicate this notion in my future work as a midwife. Being a midwife should not give me power or higher positionality, but it will mean I have a set of specialized skills that I can contribute to a team to support a person during childbirth. This reminds me of the responsibility we each have as we navigate the system.

This is a lifelong commitment that we each need to make everyday and as Carruthers’ said, it is a choice. This was a reminder that we should all be lifelong learners. Carruthers shared her own political evolution that is critical because as the face of oppression is ever evolving, we need to evolve with it. We need to make a conscious choice to act against oppression in society. With that, this includes allies as well. I am reminded of discussion that made the point that, being an ally, is a verb, not a noun. The work of social justice in general is not a place you get to, it is an active choice that we all must make every day, in every interaction.

Charlene continued her lecture by speaking about her chapter called “The Five Questions”. This chapter is to allow readers to move through the questions to determine the work that they will be up to. The five questions are: “Who am I? Who are my people? What do we want? What are we building?”. In her lecture she asked additional sub-questions that resonated with me and allowed me to expand my thinking on how I want to approach my current and future work.

For ‘Who Am I?’ Carruthers (2019) asks “What’s the thing that gets you up most mornings? What are you best positioned to do?”. She continues by stating that there are many ways that we can show up in meaningfully. For ‘Who Are My People?’Carruthers asks who are you actually responsible for and to? Who are you connected to? She states that this is a representation of what and who you care about and what gets you moving. For ‘What Do We Want?’ Carruthers ask us “Do we want bandaid solutions that help some people but not all people, or do we want transformation? What are we fighting for?” (Carruthers, 2019). For ‘What Are We Building’ Carruthers asks us, ‘What is it that you’re actually building?’. Lastly for ‘Are We Ready to Win’ Carruthers states that “It is okay to say no, but get ready”.

These questions gave me a better understanding and allowed me to question my positionality in the future work that I hope to do. As previously shared, I hope to become a Nurse-Midwife and I hope to consistently ask myself these questions as I work towards lessening Black maternal mortality health disparities. Carruthers prompted the audience full of public health and health science students: “What systems are you all creating for us? Who’s going to keep people well? We need you!”. It is clear that the health care system, and medical industrial complex has not worked for the collective, and even detrimental to many populations particularly LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. Carruthers lecture allowed me to reflect on how I can work with individuals while advocating for better policies and systems to create a better healthcare system for all.

People in healthcare and public health may ask what their role is. Carruthers answer is simple: “You all keep us alive, if we are going to win we need those radical folks in public health, we need Radical Public Health” (Carruthers, 2019). An interesting historical understanding Carruthers shares is from studying post-revolution.  She shares, “Health outcomes and disease were one of the biggest threats to independence. So imagine when we win and when we continue to win, that y’all are all part of that, and you don’t need to be an organizer to do that, but to actually radicalize your field, you all help us keep alive. That is tremendous work” (Carruthers, 2019).

Charlene Carruthers’ book and lecture gave me a better understanding and inspiration to be more radical in my public health work. As a black, queer Muslim woman that aligns with feminist values this book and lecture allowed me to better understand my place in the work for black liberation. The Combahee River Collective quote was a reminder of why I am a Public Health student in Maternal and Child Health. The black maternal health crisis is the work I hope to focus on. This book was a reminder of how I want to make my work more radical, more queer, and more feminist.


Anders, T. (2012) Combahee River Collective (1974-1980). Retrieved from

Carruthers, C. (2018). Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical
Movements. Beacon Press.

Carruthers, C. (February, 2019). A Lecture By Charlene Carruthers: Unapologetic: A Black,
Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. Presented at the University of
Chicago Illinois Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health.



CoE MCH Voters

The How and Why of Universal Healthcare

Author: Esther Bier, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

On February 4th, 2019, the New York Times published an article describing how “Medicare-for-all is quickly becoming a rallying cry for many Democratic White House hopefuls.” The article discussed how universal healthcare is the hot topic of the day, one that an increasing number of democratic presidential contenders view as central to gaining public support. Well known democratic candidates such as Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand aim to revamp the US healthcare system to afford every American equal access to healthcare. Meanwhile, centrist candidates such as Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg shrug off these democratic ideals as a prohibitively expensive initiative that would reduce overall quality of care.

Despite how unrealistic universal healthcare is in the current political climate, it is telling that the topic is an issue that prominent candidates feel they need to discuss and support. A single-payer system was deemed too extreme during the construction of the Affordable Care Act under the Obama administration – now it is has become a rallying call for mainstream democrats. A remarkable shift has thus taken place among a sizable portion of the American populace: many voters now consider access to healthcare a right instead of a privilege and favor candidates willing to dismantle the current for-profit and bureaucratic system in order to establish a single-payer method.

This was the topic of conversation at the recent workshop entitled “Toward Healthcare for All: The Opportunity to Act Now” organized by Health & Medicine Policy Research Group on January 26th, 2019. On a cold and snowy winter day, roughly two-hundred people crowded into an event space at the Service Employees International Union in Pilsen to participate in this conversation. The event started with a rousing introduction by Claudia Fegan of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group that reminded participants that universal healthcare means that everyone is included, and nobody is left out. Every medical necessity should be covered (including abortion care) without the burden of copays and deductibles, she said, without proving citizenship or individual worth. Hers was an inspirational talk ahead of challenging conversations about methods to implement change.

The following speaker, Julie Hamos, gave a brief overview of the modern-day healthcare system. The US spends upwards of ten thousand dollars on healthcare per person(regardless of citizenship) every year, drastically more than any other developed country. The system is wildly inefficient and expensive. Every year, tens of thousands of people die due to a lack of healthcare access while others delay visits and reduce their medication intake to limit their financial burden. Individual health is further compounded by a person’s social position (such as the race, class, sex, and educational background) that limits access to resources, sustain poverty, and perpetuate violence. Racism, homophobia, sexist, and ableism worsen the cycle of poor health outcomes for the most vulnerable groups.

Jesse Hoyt next described the healthcare landscape in Illinois and discussed how attacks on the Affordable Care Act, the repeal of the individual mandate, and the decimation of funding for ACA navigators have sought to weaken access for underserved communities. Illinois is witnessing an increase in its uninsured population for the first time in years. Those who are uninsured are more likely to be undocumented residents, people of color, and adults between the ages of nineteen and sixty-four. Women and children, groups who disproportionately experience poverty, are the hardest hit by lack of insurance. Universally providing healthcare to every woman and child would drastically reduce infant and maternal mortality – rates of which US are shockingly high (and preventable). Workshop participants were left to imagine what the country would look like if every woman had equitable access to birth control, paid maternity leave, and prenatal care. How would our overall health and economy improve if every child could see a dentist, a family doctor, and a mental health counseling whenever they needed?

The event closed with a talk by state representative Greg Harris who discussed current initiatives that will move us towards a single-payer system. Any money set aside to improve access to care should not be taken from funds designated for head start, paid family leave, or school improvements. We cannot uplift one segment of the population on the backs of others who deserve support of their own. A graduated income tax should be implemented and corporate tax holes (that allow 60% of corporations in Illinois to pay no taxes) should be closed.

There are tangible and realistic ways to make universal healthcare in America a reality. The process will be long, challenging, and likely painful but the benefits will be hugely rewarding. Ensuring every American resident has access to care will protect the most at need: women, children, people of color, those with disabilities, etc. The public deserves a thoughtful debate about different plans to create a Medicare-for-all system while holding elected officials accountable to the demands of their constituents and responsible for making this country an equitable place for all residents to live. This workshop served as a helpful reminder of local partners working together in this fight, what we have accomplished that bring us closer to success, and the work left to complete in order to make healthcare for all a reality for the nation.

MCH Students at the National Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute

Authors: Camille Bundy, MPH (c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Aris Brown, MPH (c) in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

On December 8th-December 9th, 2018 the Black Mamas Matter Alliance hosted the first National Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute. Two of UIC’s Maternal and Child Health trainees attended the conference, Camille Bundy and Aris Brown. Below are excerpts from their experience:

Camille: I can’t even put into words how liberating, inspiring and truly revolutionary the Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute was. This was my very first time attending a conference as a graduate student and it exceeded my expectations to say the least. For the first time in my academic career, I was in a space filled with women of color who are on the front lines of health disparities, especially those that pertain to Black women. That alone took off the pressure and allowed me to be completely free and submerged in the information that I was soaking in. If I could, I would have attended all of the break-out sessions because they were all really powerful topics. I chose to attend “Trauma-Informed Approaches to Interacting with Black Pregnant Mamas,” “Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis,” “Black Immigrant, African Immigrant, and Afro-Latina Women on Birth Justice and Maternity Care Work” and “Sharing Our Stories: Personal Loss, Healing, and Storytelling.” While each session taught me something new about the Black MCH world, they all reminded me of the historic and structural reasons why Black maternal health outcomes are less than satisfactory.

I met Black women from all sorts of professions: doulas, midwives, CDC employees, psychologists and sociologists. There is something so reassuring about networking with other black women-there’s an unspoken sense of comradery and sisterhood that comes along with it. By the end of the weekend, I gained not only the tools to tackle this work, but I also left with the confidence that I had been missing. The weekend affirmed that even in academic spaces that may not feel comfortable for me, it is equally important that my voice be heard and that my work for black mamas is valuable.  This was more than a conference. It was a breathing space. It was a weekend where Black women could get together, learn from each other, and encourage one another to continue fighting for our own health. It was a weekend that reminded us why Black Mamas truly matter. I am so incredibly thankful to have gotten the opportunity to attend this conference and I will be screaming to the mountaintops to encourage future MCH trainees to also attend!

Aris: I am relieved, proud of, and inspired by the 1st Annual Black Maternal and Child Health Conference and Training Institute. Coming to this conference was especially important for me because I do not see many women of color within the public health realm and with great representation here, I felt as though I got the support I was seeking, from women I felt comfortable with. It was refreshing to meet women from various disciplines who understood and shared my health concerns and struggles as a Black woman. I learned a considerable amount of information within each of the three sessions Camille and I attended. Each session addressed difficult/sensitive topics that Black women have endured, while arming us with practical techniques and tools such as: culturally competent questions to build rapport with clients/communities, the urban ACES metric, and community-based research approaches to conquer health disparities within communities of color.

What I liked most from the conference was how the participants worked in unison with each other. Everyone was extremely helpful and brought various perspectives to discussions, theories and frameworks. Additionally, I was intrigued and delightfully surprised by the amount of cultural shifting solutions to research, policy, and patient care for Black mamas and their children. It was such an uplifting experience to witness seasoned women utilizing their platforms and resources to further propel younger women like myself into positions of meaning, power, and responsibility. This weekend showed me that it is vital to continually fight for the injustices pertaining to Black mamas and their babies. I was taught that my voice mattered, even as a student. There were no hierarchical practices and all ideas were welcomed. The Black Maternal Health Conference was a chance to “reclaim my time” and the time for all Black women. I am humbled and beyond appreciative for my opportunity to attend this conference. The information embedded in me was invaluable and I am determined to direct my work within the MCH world to advancing the Black Mamas Matter agenda. I encourage all MCH trainees (no matter their race or ethnicity) to attend this conference in order to observe the unique and united connection of health professionals, progressing evidence-based advocacy for Black mamas.

MCH Mentorship in Action: Attending the HMPRG Gala

Authors: Virginia Mason, MPH(c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Camille Bundy, MPH(c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Martha Tellez, BA(c) in Public Health

Jessica Jakubowski, BA(c) in Public Health

As members of the 2018-2019 Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Undergraduate Mentor Program, Virginia Mason, Camille Bundy, Martha Tellez, and Jessica Jakubowski were able to attend the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group Gala. The mentors and mentees wrote their respective reflections on their experience at the gala and the importance of being an active participant in the public health network within Chicago.

MCH Mentor Perspective:

Virginia: I had the pleasure of attending the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala on October 19, 2018 with my fellow Maternal and Child Health (MCH) mentor, Camille Bundy. As mentors within the MCH program at University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health, we were able to attend the gala with our mentees, Jess Jakubowskiand Martha Tellez. I was very excited to attend the event with my mentee, because these events are a great way to see the work being done and learn from the experiences of professionals in the field.

While attending the gala, I was able to connect with a variety of professionals working on public health issues around the Chicagoland area. Personally, my favorite part of the event was to see the many recipients of awards and to hear about the work they are doing. The gala highlighted the variety of topics these recipients are doing work in, ranging from: AIDS, LGBTQ, to mental health. Furthermore, I had heard about Arturo Carillo’s work with Saint Anthony Hospital’s Community Wellness Program in my CHSC 421 class and was thrilled to see he was receiving an award at the event. I am always amazed by all the wonderful work being done within Chicago and the event made me excited to graduate in May and join this workforce!

Camille: Attending the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala with my MCH colleague Virginia Mason and MCH mentees Jessica Jakubowskiand Martha Tellez was a great way to reinvigorate ourselves in the middle of the semester, where energy and motivation start to decrease. You could nearly feel the energy in the room, filled with public health and medical professionals who were excited about their work and bringing about health equity within various communities. The recipients of the gala awards reflected many different communities as far north as Boystown and all the way south to Little Village-they were especially representative of Chicago’s multicultural background. That’s what I found most memorable about the night! Organizations around the city were being awarded and appreciated for their tireless work in their own communities.

It was an honor to be in the same room with professionals who have done so much meaningful organizing around public health issues. With all the chaos around healthcare reform under the current administration, it’s reassuring to see that many organizations in my city are resisting and continuing to support their community’s most urgent needs.  As an Associate Board Member of AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), I was particularly excited to see AFC receive an award! These sorts of events remind us why we sit in lectures and complete lengthy homework assignments-because we are the next generation of public health professions. The HMPRG Gala reminded us that we have strong Public Health predecessors and I am even more encouraged to follow in their footsteps!

MCH Mentee Perspective:

Jessica: I am so glad I jumped at the opportunity to attend the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala. That night, my mentor, Camille, and I entered the gala excited to meet other students who shared similar interests, network with health professionals, and our course, munch on the appetizing refreshments. We quickly gravitated toward Virginia and Martha, a fellow mentor and mentee. I was able to meet some of Camille’s classmates. This was one memorable part for me because two of them had volunteered with AmeriCorps, something I was considering doing after graduation. It was extremely helpful to get first-hand insight about the program. Additionally, I spoke with familiar professors and met some their colleges in the health field.

Like Virginia, I too really enjoyed seeing Arturo Carillo received an award for his work on the Community Wellness Program at Saint Anthony’s hospital. I find it remarkable that he altered their program to be able to extend mental health services to everyone in the surrounding community. He really inspired me to explore that aspect of public health, influencing my decision for field work next semester. It was wonderful to see how much people really do care for others and want to create a better, healthier, happier, society. I cannot wait to officially join the workforce and help make a difference.

Martha: The Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala was my first public health event since enrolling at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) undergraduate Public Health program. I must admit, I was feeling a little anxious—unsure of what to expect. However, my nervousness quickly evaporated once I met up with my mentor, Virginia, and other Maternal and Child Health (MCH) mentors and mentees. Throughout the night I was able to connect with former and current public health professors, as well as other graduate students who share similar interests as myself. It was quite interesting and reassuring to hear about other graduate students’ experiences and to network with seasoned public health professionals.

Attending the HMPRG gala also provided me a glimpse of vast public health achievements and opportunities available to public health practitioners in Chicago. As someone who’s preparing to enter the workforce, it was inspiring to witness a collective group of individuals who share the same public health interests as myself and who are equally passionate about the field. I am truly appreciative the MCH mentorship program extended an invitation for me to attend the gala. The guidance of my mentor and MCH program offered me the opportunity to attend an event that may have not been available to me before.


Integrating Marketing and Public Health Practices into the Capstone Experience

Author: Danielle Noriega, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health; MBA(c), Marketing

The capstone project can be one of the most stressful and rewarding experiences of the entire MPH graduate program. It’s an opportunity to take all of the knowledge learned over the program and apply it to a passion project. It’s a semester (or even more) of a to-do list that seems to never end but it’s all worth it when you get to show off that hard work to your faculty and classmates. My capstone experience was the perfect end to my MPH program because it not only integrated my coursework but gave me real world experience that will contribute to a social marketing campaign here in Chicago.

As an MPH-MBA student, I am interested in knowledge translation. I want to use research so that it actually reaches everyday people and I believe you can do that through commercial marketing techniques. “Selling” healthy behavior can use the same tools as selling a product for profit. Therefore, for my capstone project, I wanted to explore that integration of disciplines. What that actually meant, was a mystery.

On one of my rides on the CTA I noticed a black and white ad with two people embracing with “contract heat” painted on them. Through further research, I learned that this wasPrEP4Love, a social marketing campaign aimed at improving awareness of PrEP throughout Chicago but particularly among those who are most vulnerable to HIV. It was developed through work groups and focus groups, utilizing extensive community based participatory research (CBPR), to create the ads displayed around the city.

I was not sure exactly how I could contribute to this initiative, but I contacted them anyway. To my surprise, I had a meeting set up with one of the lead organizations within a few days. I learned that they were looking to explore a Latinx specific version of the campaign. In Chicago, Latinxs accounted for 21.2% of new HIV infections in 2016. Health marketing efforts amongst this population are unique because they have to take into account the significant variations in culture within the population; differences in experiences between U.S. born versus foreign born Latinxs; and considerations in terms of language in ads. Therefore, my project would be to conduct exploratory research on key takeaways for messaging and design to guide the creation of a Latinx specific sexual health campaign.

I worked closely with a working group of representatives from Chicago organizations that work with the Latinx population and/or PrEP services. I collaborated with them for two semesters to create discussion guides, conduct stakeholder interviews, design surveys to collect quantitative data and conduct an analysis of these data to present key takeaways for health messaging and campaign design for this population.

This experience very much integrated the public health and marketing worlds. I was able to see how those both function in practice and it was much more challenging than expected. Unlike commercial marketing, this campaign is trying to influence behavior for a sensitive area of health amongst a very diverse and complex group. Therefore, integrating CBPR is extremely important in this process, as it provides those on the ground perspectives that are missing when just trying to apply techniques learned in a classroom. Though trying to integrate multiple perspectives and experiences into one product can be challenging, it will be worth it in the end when an amazing campaign is created that educates and empowers its intended audiences.


Chicago Department of Public Health. (2017). HIV/STI Surveillance Report.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Cultural Insights: Communicating with Hispanics/Latinos. Retrieved from

Chicago PrEP Working Group. (2018). About Prep4Love. Prep4Love. Retrieved from


Young Feminist Conference

Authors: Esther Bier, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health & Nadezh Mulholland, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

On a rainy Saturday morning at the beginning of October, four hundred (mostly) young people gathered at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters in Fulton Market for the Young Feminist Conference, hosted by the organization Cause the Effect. By 9AM, the hall was filled with youth, eager to discuss the day’s topics. This particular Saturday also happened to be the same day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Emotions were raw as participants discussed the inescapable swirl of news surrounding sexual violence from recent weeks. To be gathered in a room with so many hopeful young people felt particularly poignant on such a grim day.

This sentiment was shared by Bridget Gainer, Cause the Effect founder and Cook County Commissioner of the 10th district, who gave opening remarks and a review of her organization’s mission. Cause the Effect seeks to increase political engagement among women, with a focus on empowering high school and college-aged youth. Cause the Effect hosts an annual Young Feminist Conference, a free space for feminists of all ages to learn about and discuss current issues relevant to women’s and LGBTQ+ liberation. To further strengthen feminist political involvement, the organization founded a political action committee to support and endorse local women candidates.

The first panel, moderated by Sarah Karp (a WBEZ contributor), discussed sexual violence and harassment and the recent Chicago Tribune exposé about sexual abuse in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The panel was composed of survivor advocates, an anti-violence social worker, an educator, and CPS parent. They did not parse words when demanding CPS transparency and accountability, and offered the audience support and suggestions for how to manage sexual violence. The second panel, ironically dubbed “Everyday Feminism from Four Bad Feminists,” featured some of the most creative, successful, well-spoken, and driven people imaginable. All women of color, panelists included a previously homeless engineering company CEO, a WNBA champion, a Harvard-enrolled tech CEO, and an eighteen-year-old running for DuPage County Board. The women spoke about their successes in male-dominated fields, motivation during trying times, and support systems.

The last panel addressed Chicago gun violence with a southside attorney, a youth-home worker, an assistant state’s attorney, and an anti-gun violence advocate. This panel gave way to a heated discussion about the source of violence in poor, primarily black neighborhoods on Chicago’s southside. While one member believed violence is partially the result of families failing to teach children how to peacefully resolve conflict, another member pushed back stating violence is primarily caused by systemic racism, over-policing, and disinvestment. In spite of this rift, panelists were united by the belief that the name “Chiraq,”used to highlight southside violence reminiscent of the Iraq war, creates an inaccurate representation of daily life in southside neighborhoods, demonizes black people, and erases vibrant community life.

Tonika Johnson, a photographer from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, served as a meaningful example of southside pride. Members of Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), of which Johnson was a founder, felt frustrated by the monolithic representation of their Englewood as a violent and despondent community. RAGE collaborated with Englewood Rising to display billboards around Englewood of fathers kissing their children, people playing, worshiping and working – an Englewood story many Chicagoans had not heard. RAGE also hosts So Fresh Saturdays featuring food, music and celebration, reminding community members that parks and green spaces are theirs to use. In doing so residents proved that Englewood is not merely a site of violence and poverty but one of hope and pride.

Reclaiming your own narrative was a salient theme throughout the panelists and speakers. Participants were encouraged to speak their minds even when their opinions might be unpopular. Whether about sexual violence, neighborhood violence, or policing, everyone has the right to truthfully define their own lives and communities and reject the narrative of outsiders. This message seamlessly blends with concepts discussed in our public health courses about intentionally creating space for communities to set their own priorities and dictate their needs. Considering the history of health officials using communities of color and erasing their voices, this conference served as a helpful reminder about how to examine our own biases and operate as an ethical public health practitioner.