You know Uzazi Village is a special space before you enter the door. The bright white stone façade and large sun-filled windows are welcoming. Step in the door and your first impression is confirmed; you can feel the love for Black and Brown, mothers, infants and their families. 

In the 10 years since it was founded, Uzazi – which means ‘birth’ in Swahili – Village has become the mecca for culturally validating perinatal care provided in a respectful and supportive environment. 

The non-profit was founded by Hakima Tafunzi Payne, Marian Chrans, Rebecca Liverty, and Tasha Reed to eliminate perinatal health disparities. Perinatal means around birth, and refers to pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period – the whole childbearing year.  Disparities, refers to a difference in statistical numbers, and the numbers aren’t good for Black babies and Black mothers.  According to the Center for Disease Control, in the U.S., Black women experience maternal mortality two to three times higher than that of White women. 

In addition, Black babies die at 2.3 times the rate of white babies.  However, Black infants are four times as likely to die from complications related to low birth weight as compared to White infants.

Uzazi’s goal is to equalize those numbers.

The solution seems apparent: help mothers stay healthy to deliver healthy babies. However that solution doesn’t come without a lot of work, the kind Uzazi has focused on for 10 years through education, support, culturally rich programming, and advocacy.  

A System Where Black People are Valued

Payne, who serves as the Village CEO and holds a Master’s in Nursing Education, said that it was her early nursing experience that lead her to want to create an alternative to the discrimination she felt and saw in the healthcare industry.

“It was there (the hospital) that I saw up close and personal just how broken the health care system was,” Payne said.

She came to the conclusion the current system of healthcare cannot meet the complex needs of childbearing persons of the Black diaspora and cannot solve the problem of health inequity in its current state.

At Uzazi, she helped implement culturally modeled programs including the “Village Circle Approach,” which they currently use today.  It’s an Afro-Centric Group Prenatal Care Model designed to support, protect and provide community-based clinical care to Black childbearing persons and families. The model uses a group prenatal care concept, in which pregnant persons move through care in support cohorts of their peers that focus on perinatal education, community nurturing and support, and excellence in clinical care, all in a culturally validating environment.

“While no one intervention can counter all of the negative effects of racism, the right supports can make all the difference for mothers and their babies,” concludes the Uzazi team on their website.

Clarissa Evans, a member of Uzazi’s midwife support program, said for mothers of color feeling like they’re supported is important .

“We’re seeing an increase in families coming in here really feeling like it’s a safe place,” Evans said. “They’re getting the medical care that they need. They’re feeling heard.”

Doulas and Midwives

Since its infancy, the organization has offered doula training and doula support services for expectant mothers and their families. A doula is a trained labor assistant who coaches, educates, and provides emotional support to the family during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. They can help the mother create a birthing plan, decide whether to have a home birth or standard hospital birth and coach and provide support, similar to a birthing companion.

Uzazi Village was one of the first programs in the Kansas City area to offer a community-based doula program. The organization has grown to include nearly 30 team members, including nearly a dozen doula’s. Through funding and grants, they are able to provide services to families at no cost.  

The organization also houses a small support program aimed at strengthening Midwives of color in Kansas City. Different from a doula, a midwife is certified to provide medical care during pregnancy, birth, and immediate postpartum. If a mother decided to give birth at home a midwife would be of assistance in preparing the birthing site and carrying out medical processes during the birth.

Other Programming

Uzazi’s goal is to bring all of the elements of birth and pregnancy under one roof.

A key component of Uzazi’s programming is the Ida Mae Patterson Center for Maternal and Infant Wellness. The clinic uses the Village Circle Approach to provide its community-embedded group prenatal care. The clinic is a Perinatal Safe Spot and a Black Sacred Space for prenatal care. The Ida Mae Clinic utilizes the Village Circle Approach™

Here are a few of their other services and program:

  • Uzazi Village Clothing Boutique is one of the busiest programs the village offers. The boutique offers infant clothing, from newborn to size 6, and maternity clothes free of charge. Donations are also wanted and accepted. 

  • Diaper Depot is offered In partnership with Happy Bottoms. Diapers are for newborns to size 6. Pickup is curbside every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. The location alternates each week between the organization’s Kansas and Missouri offices. If you’re in a vehicle, they ask that you stay in your car and an Uzazi Village staff member will arrive to help you enroll and receive diapers.

  • Free Breastfeeding Clinic they are currently offering these clinics virtually and in person. Nursing bras are also available.

  • Chocolate Milk Cafe is a support group for Black breastfeeding families.

  • Playgroups for all Uzazi families are hosted by parents and educators monthly. 

With this much going on, at full steam, the building is bustling with energy, a combination of children and parents, volunteers and staff, all in a common space; a true village.