Shining a Light on Black Maternity Care: Movie Screening and Panel Discussion Planned for Black History Month
Kent State University’s Anti-Racism and Equity Institute, in conjunction with University Libraries, on Feb. 6 will host a movie screening and panel discussion for Black History Month addressing the increasing infant mortality rate among African Americans in Northeast Ohio.
The panel will feature the Anti-Racism and Equity Institute’s new activist-in-residence Jazmin Long. Long is the president and chief executive officer of Birthing Beautiful Communities, a nonprofit organization operating in Cleveland and Akron that offers a doula program and intensive social support to pregnant Black women who are at the highest risk for infant mortality.
The movie screening of the short film “Toxic: A Black Woman’s Story,” will begin at 3:30 p.m. followed by a panel discussion and a reception. University Libraries purchased the rights to the film, which was produced in Cleveland, for this event.
Panelists include Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Kent State; Versie Johnson-Mallard, Ph.D., dean of Kent State’s College of Nursing; and Shawana Moore, Ph.D., associate professor at the Woodruff College of Nursing at Emory University and immediate past president of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health. The panel will be moderated by Clare Stacey, Ph.D., Kent State associate professor of sociology and criminology and associate director of the Health Communities Research Institute.
This event marks Long’s debut on campus in her new activist-in-residence role.
Carla Goar, Ph.D., professor of sociology and director of the Anti-Racism and Equity Institute, said the appointment of Long goes back to the beginning of the institute in 2021.
“We were charged with the mission of promoting collaborative and innovating work, both scholarly and applied,” Goar said. “The work we’re interested in doing will promote the understanding of and interruption of structural inequities that impact communities of color.”
The activist-in-residence program helps to promote the institute’s mission of bringing local activists to Kent State to introduce emerging leaders, both students and faculty, to mechanisms that can help promote and sustain positive social change.
We knew that we wanted a local activist,” Goar said. “We knew that we wanted someone who had a demonstrated record of leadership in the area of activism and advocacy, and we knew that we wanted someone who worked on issues that impact Northeast Ohio specifically.”
Long’s commitment to improved birth outcomes and equitable medical care for mothers and children of color aligns seamlessly with the values and mission of the institute, Goar said.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the mortality rate for Black infants in Ohio is 14.2 per 1,000 births, compared to 5.4 for white infants. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates Ohio ranks eighth highest in the nation for infant mortality, with seven deaths for every 1,000 live births.
In her work at Birthing Beautiful Communities, Long has mobilized community residents and organizational partners to address the social, structural and economic determinants of health. Since starting as a pilot project in 2015, the organization has trained more than 100 doulas and has served more than 1,000 mothers in Northeast Ohio.
Black infants, she said, are three to four times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. “Our role is to help reduce toxic stress and other factors that may be impacting a mother and a family,” Long said.
Those stresses, she said, may come from a lack of transportation, housing or food insecurity. “Making sure moms have healthy eating options and can get to their doctor’s appointments – we’re really trying to remove the barriers that may prevent them from getting the care they need,” Long said.
Long said much of Neal-Barnett’s research helps to inform the work of her organization, particularly her work on toxic stress and how it impacts maternal mental health. A leading researcher
and expert on Black mental health and anxiety disorders among Black women and girls, Neal-Barnett has found that untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress among Black mothers plays a critical role in high mortality rates among Black infants, an increased risk of pre-term births and mortality of the mother. In 2021, Neal-Barnett developed and launched the Spirit of Motherhood Program, which aims to reduce symptoms that negatively impact the health of Black mothers and babies by screening and treating for PTSD and chronic stress among expectant mothers. Neal-Barnett recently received a $300,000 grant from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation to support her work at Kent State to address preterm births and infant mortality among Black mothers in Northeast Ohio.
A native of Connecticut, Long graduated from Connecticut College and moved to Cleveland 10 years ago to pursue an advanced degree at Case Western Reserve University. She holds a master’s degree in social work and nonprofit management from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case, where she currently teaches and where she was awarded the 2023 Innovator of the Year honor.
As part of her Kent State residency, Long will host a series of events on the Kent Campus during the spring semester. Details of events planned for March 13 and April 10 will be released in the future.
The Feb. 6 movie screening and panel discussion will take place at the Kent Student Center Ballroom Balcony, on the student center's third floor. The reception to follow will take place in the Schwebel Room, also on the third floor.
Cynthia Williams, marketing, communications and public relations director for University Libraries, said the film was added to the library collection following a suggestion Goar made through Hack the Stacks, the program through which library users can suggest materials for the libraries to add to allow for a broad representation of authors and ideas.
The event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.
Other Kent State sponsors of the event are the Division of Research & Economic Development, the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, the Brain Health Research Institute, Design Innovation, the Environmental Science and Design Research Institute and the Healthy Communities Research Institute.