We Need Our Village Back.

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Kimberly Seals Allers

For some time now, I’ve been lamenting the demise of our "village."

When our parents grew up the whole neighborhood helped raise them (and probably had spanking privileges). And when I grew up you could best believe that any neighbor would quickly tell my mother or father if I was ever seen someplace I wasn’t supposed to be. There was an "we’re all in this together" mentality and a thinking that my child is my responsibility and your child is my responsibility because at the end of the day, we are all in this community together and one success is our collective success and one failure is our collective failure and affects us all.

Somewhere along the way, we lost this village mentality. The changing economic climate has dictated that we move away from relatives or that we move often because of job opportunities. As a result, we never really grow roots in our communities anymore. We don’t have our extended family of aunties, uncles and grandparents nearby anymore.

This week Women’s eNews hosted a screening of Tonya Lewis Lee’s powerful documentary on reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health, in celebration of the second year of The Black Maternal Health Project. It was a full house. The film, Crisis in the Crib–Saving Our Nation’s Babies (view the trailer here) speaks directly to preconception health, mobilizing young people as peer educators in the movement and putting a face and voice to the infant mortality issue. The conversation afterward with Tonya and our fabulous guests was even more empowering.

We couldn’t understand while infant mortality remains a taboo topic in our country’s agenda. Even when you remove African American statistics from the equation, the United States still had an embarrassing ranking as far as infant mortality is concerned. We couldn’t understand why maternal health is absent from the current debate about healthcare reform. And we certainly couldn’t understand why very little is being done to save our most vulnerable population. There was so much that didn’t make sense.

But here’s what was crystal clear. We can’t wait for the government to solve this crisis. Yes, we have to push for laws. But we also have to advocate in our communities to remove some of the social barriers to our health issues. We need to advocate for safe places to exercise, removing toxins from our communities, having fresh fruit and vegetables available in our communities and more.

It was clear that we need our village of womenfolk. And then some.

In Crisis in the Crib, the ‘ Healthy Baby Begins With You’ Campaign,  takes on a peer education model. It uses college students to go into their own communities and also speak to high school students about preconception health. It goes back to that "village" mentality.

That night of the screening we deployed our own village, a room full of women of all races with personal and professional interests in embracing mothers and producing healthy babies. We thought of ways we could let our own network know about the OMH campaign, spread more awareness about the problem, or help be a part of the solution.

We saw the powerful ripple effect that could be sparked just from those in the room doing one thing. For that evening, we brought our village back. And it felt oh so good.

What can you do to help bring our village back to our babies? What more can we be doing? I’d love to hear from you. Please post a comment here.

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