The Kansas Health Foundation recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the Wichita Birth Justice Society (WBJS), a grassroots, nonprofit organization leading community-driven efforts to reduce racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality in Wichita.
“We've had long-standing racial disparities in rates of infants dying in their first year in particular, right here in the center of Wichita -- right in the urban core, and that is why we founded this organization. We felt that there needed to be a Black and Brown community-driven effort that really got to the root of what is causing these problems rather than just continuing to treat the symptoms,” said Sapphire Garcia-Lies, president of the Wichita Birth Justice Society.
Lies’ stillborn daughter passed away due to a doctor’s negligence 8 years ago, which drove her to start and stay committed to this organization and to help other mothers of color.
WBJS will use the funding from the Kansas Health Foundation to help scale up its programming.
“It's really our goal to be able to serve all the folks in our community who need this kind of support, and so that's where this money is actually going, to be able to provide our services for families that aren’t covered by insurance,” said Lies.
One of WBJS’s most important services is The Neighborhood Doula Advocates Program. A doula is a non-medical professional who helps pregnant women before, during, and after childbirth. WBJS’s program was created to exclusively serve families of color in Wichita with birth and postpartum doula support at no cost.
The program served 36 individuals between October 2019 to November 2020, with more to come in 2021 upon completion of the new Doula training class.
In January a bill, co-written by Melody McCray-Miller of Wichita Birth Justice Society and Dr. Sharla Smith of the Kansas Birth Equity Network, was introduced in the Kansas House and Senate. If approved, the bill would have changed the way Kansas investigates cases involving Black women who died as a result of childbirth-related complications. The bill would’ve required the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to form a subcommittee to investigate these incidents and to include problems of systemic racism when establishing the causes of maternal fatalities.
WBJS will launch two new programs this summer: a Text-an-Advocate line and a birth worker mentorship group.
The Text-an-Advocate line will connect parents of color with real-time advocacy during pregnancy & birth. The line will also connect parents to resources and information to help assist families in having empowered, self-directed, and healthy birth experiences.
The mentorship group will benefit Black, Indigenous, and Latinx individuals residing in Wichita.
It will provide mothers access to monthly lunch and learn topics as well as a comprehensive lending library.
WBJS is looking for volunteers, those interested can message them on Facebook or visit their website https://wichitabirthjusticesociety.org and click the tab labeled “Get Involved” to fill out the form.