The Black Maternal Wellness Innovation Lab Trains Birth Justice Advocates in Southwest Fresno

Picture source: Kendalyn Mack-Franklin. Pictured: Sabrina Kelley, Kendalyn Mack-Franklin, Desiree Miller, RocQuel Johnson, Heaven Smith, Jasmine Kirsh, Keishell Williams, Mastawal Abebe, Subira Shabazz, and Trinesha McFarland. Not pictured: Simone Allen​. 

PTBi’s Collective Impact partners in Southwest Fresno reached an important milestone in July as a cohort of Black women became the first graduates of an innovative training program that uses Human-Centered Design (HCD) to empower and develop birth justice advocates. 

Called the Black Maternal Wellness Innovation Lab, the pilot program is the brainchild of founder Sabrina Kelley, a Fresno native and advocacy expert. It was created as a pilot program to address the Black premature birth epidemic in Fresno County, which has the second-highest number of premature births in California. It was funded by PTBi, First 5 Fresno County and Fresno Economics Opportunity Commission. 

“We wanted to embrace motherhood so folks brought their kids and came together, learned together,” Kelley said at the community roundtable. “This was my vision, but we created this together. We built this bike and we rode it together.”   

Over the course of nine weeks, participants learned to cope with the internal and external stressors contributing to adverse birth outcomes and channel their experiences into advocacy. They worked in teams to utilized Theory of Change and Racism as a Root Cause of Preterm Birth frameworks to co-create new interventions with their community.  

What emerged was two strategies to disrupt community level and upstream factors impacting adverse birth outcomes among Black perinatal women in Southwest Fresno, or more specifically in zip code 93706. The first intervention, #RUListeningtoHer, is a community roundtable where Black women and Fresno providers can interface to share experiences and challenges. The second is a teen pregnancy intervention called #ThePath, a two-day program designed to connect teens with mentorship, family planning services, self-love practices, and much more. Those prototypes will be implemented this fall by the program graduates. 

The six participants that graduated from the program on July 9 are: Heaven Smith, Jasmine Kirsh, Keishell Williams, Mastawal Abebe, Subira Shabazz, Simone Allen and Trinesha McFarland. These graduates are now the newest birth justice advocates of Fresno.  

We are actively listening and co-creating with the community efforts,” said program graduate Mastawel Abebe. “[We are] designing for the people and not the problem. Spending time with the community really listening to them about the program. Using workable and personalized data-driven solutions instead of accepting existing solutions, accepting new ideas — not throwing away ideas until we test them." 

image of the self care kitThe program provided participants with over $1000 in stipends, a self-care kit that included a pregnancy journal, affirmation cards, candles and other body care items.

At the graduation, Kelley congratulated the newly-credentialed advocates on their accomplishments: “I wanted you to create disruption and interventions and that’s exactly what we did.”  

To learn more about the program, please reach out to Sabrina Kelley at [email protected] or visit the Black Maternal Wellness Innovation Lab on Facebook