This month, the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete of all time, Allyson Felix, penned this piece in memory of her friend and teammate Tori Bowie. In it, Felix calls on the systems at fault to address how three Black women — gold medalists who set out to become mothers—had such serious complications.
Felix reminds us that the CDC states that in 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 2.6 times the rate for white women, higher than previous years. What’s at fault is not anyone being Black and pregnant, but the white supremacist systems within the medical community that deliver dangerously unequal care to those who need it the most.
Recognizing Medical Racism as the Root
Medical racism allows other families and communities the autonomy and opportunity to experience childbirth with little error or harm, while Black families and communities are consistently denied the same experience, and instead are left with a birth filled with trauma and grief.
“Despite advancements in medicine and technology over the years, the racial gap in who is suffering the most severe consequences of childbirth is growing, and most Black maternal and child health experts point to systematic racism as the root cause.” Felix names that the medical community and legislatures must do their part to address the Black maternal health crisis.
Combatting Outdated Patterns and Funding Real Solutions
While both spaces raised need to be called in, it is also crucial for philanthropy to step forward, and no longer recuse itself from its impact on this issue. A consistent pattern that the movement has raised suggests that philanthropy’s presence dehumanized the maternal mortality crisis. Current grantmaking practices aren’t saving us, just romanticizing our deaths and trauma.
One direct solution to combat these outdated patterns is by allocating more funding to Black-led organizations and platforms, and ensuring the sector is following the leadership of Black feminists centering the reproductive justice framework as they hold the solutions to the crisis but are severely under-resourced.
Funders should be listening as birth worker Sarah Michal Hamid joins The Black Feminist Rants podcast to name what birth work entails, the impact of settler colonialism on reproduction, and the importance of doulas operating outside of the capitalist health care system.
The sector must look to leaders like the Birth Justice Care Fund at Sister Song and the Birth Justice Fund at Groundswell Fund for examples of ethical, trauma-informed organizing and grantmaking that is grounded in birth justice.
Philanthropy by itself doesn’t have the solutions, but Black birthworkers and organizers do. To end the Black maternal mortality crisis, funders have to use their capital and capacity to make a transformative impact for Black pregnant people and the families and communities that love them.
Brandi Collins-Calhoun is a Movement Engagement Manager at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). A writer, educator and reproductive justice organizer, she leads the organization’s Reproductive Access and Gendered Violence portfolio of work.