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.