Amplifying the Need to Advance Black Maternal Health

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Multi-generational family at the 2023 Black Maternal Health Walk in Atlanta, Georgia.

The untimely death of Kira Johnson from internal bleeding after a cesarean section in 2016 highlighted the problem. Tennis champion Serena Williams’ near-death experience after childbirth a year later confirmed it.

Black women were four times more likely than white women to experience pregnancy-related deaths. In high-risk pregnancies, the disparities were even greater, with Black women 5.6 times more likely to die than white women. Amnesty International released a report on this growing lethal crisis back in 2010, and the name of the report says it all: Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA. The report gave birth to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) in 2016.

“Just hearing stories from folks about their mistreatment, abuse, and what we now clearly recognize as obstetric violence … there were clear human rights violations that people were experiencing just navigating our healthcare system,” says Angela Doyinsola Aina, co-founder and executive director of BMMA.

Strength in Numbers

BMMA is a national network of Black-women-led and Black-led birth and reproductive justice organizations and health professionals working across the full spectrum of maternal and reproductive health.

“We chose the term ‘alliance,’” Aina explains, “to recognize the fact that there have been so many Black-women-led community-based organizations and entities that have been doing birth work, birth justice work, and reproductive justice work for decades, way before we got here.”

Aina herself has years of experience. She trained with the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and worked with both U.S.-born and immigrant Black local communities and at the federal level with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aina knows that these crises stem from unequal resources and the decentering over the years of women-led community care.

Shifting the Culture Paradigm

BMMA’s goals are lifesaving. They seek to change policy, cultivate research, advance care for Black mamas, and shift culture. To do so, they help increase visibility of Black women leaders, foster connections between mainstream entities and Black-women-led initiatives, and support effective collaborations of stakeholders working to advance Black maternal health and justice.

The alliance has hosted several conferences and community events and successfully teamed up with Congresswoman Alma Adams and then-Senator Kamala Harris to pass the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018.

“That act finally allowed all 50 states to begin the work of creating a maternal mortality review committee,” Aina states. “Because that was part of the problem; a lot of states weren’t even capable of actually counting maternal death.”

In 2018, BMMA launched Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) a national week-long campaign held annually from April 11th to 17th to build awareness, activism, and community-building to resoundingly uplift the voices, perspectives, and lived realities of Black Mamas and birthing people. Later that year, BMMA founded the Black Maternal Health Conference & Training Institute™ (BMHC), a biannual conference that meets a national need for a forum dedicated to Black Maternal Health.

BMMA’s efforts to raise awareness have led to the creation of the congressional Black Maternal Health Caucus and the introduction of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, which called for a comprehensive approach to health equity.

Aina says, “I really hope that maternal mortality is completely eliminated [in the future]. Not just in this country, but in the world.”


Black Mamas Matter Alliance

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The Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) is a Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance that centers Black mamas and birthing people to advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice.

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