Financial Security Impact on Preterm Birth: A Report From the Benioff Community Innovators

What are the perinatal experiences like for BIPOC folks living the Oakland, CA? The Benioff Community Innovators recently completed a quantitative and qualitative study that found that these experiences were painted by racism. This month, the innovators celebrated year one of their research project by reporting their findings. 

Cofacilitated by PTBi, Mills College, and the Benioff Community Innovators, the study sought to identify barriers that prevent Black, Latinx and Pacific Islander people from accessing healthcare during the perinatal period. The innovators surveyed and hosted listening sessions with BIPOC pregnant and parenting people in Oakland. Of the 50 surveyed, 93% of the participants earned less than $75,000 annually and 94% had 2 or more children. 39 participants took part in the 12 listening sessions facilitated by the innovators. 

One of the innovators, Alejandra Garcia came to the project with a passion and curiosity about social justice research and policy. While leading listening sessions, she learned firsthand the effects of discrimination, negligence, miscommunication, and abuse. There were no listening sessions without tears, she shared, calling the outcomes from the study "completely devasting." 

Garcia and her cohort of innovators were recruited in September 2020, and the innovators collected data from March through June 2021. Each of the 8 innovators was selected and oriented through a community-based participatory research education. Over 23 sessions and 100+ hours, the innovators learned about preterm birth, the reproductive justice framework, and racial and health equity. The Benioff Community Innovator Program provides professional development in terms of research, public speaking, and facilitation skills as well as capacity building in the areas of literature reviews, data collection, and writing.  

The purpose of the research undertaken was to investigate the address the correlations between preterm birth and economic instability in order to further inform policy changes and increase advocacy around economic systems change and health equity. 

“One thing I noticed while speaking with participants was the lack of care, the lack of concern, the lack of compassion," innovator Sharayah Alexander said. 

Together, the innovators and research participants identified challenges such as health insurance literacy, fears about disclosing pregnancy to employers, a lack of resources for fathers, and financial barriers from accessing midwife and doula services.  

In their second year, the Benioff Community Innovators will use their expertise and passion to inform policy. “I love how this program encouraged us to tap into our unique gifts... I have no doubt that our research will be able to create a positive change in Oakland,” said Sonia Lizama.  

We can’t wait to see what comes next for this cohort of innovators. 

Meet the Innovators

Alejandra Garcia

Alejandra Garcia | Doula

Originally from Medellin, Colombia, Alejandra loves to give and spread love, wellness and beauty in the community since 2005 when she moved to the Bay Area. Certified and licensed massage therapist, cosmetologist, esthetician and doula, her major goal is to advocate for the more vulnerable communities for equality and respect. She has one daughter named Luna who is the motor of her life.

Brandy Thomas

Brandy Thomas | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advocate

Brandy Thomas was born and raised in Oakland, CA. She has been employed by UC Berkeley for 6 years. As an extension of her primary work function, she supports diversity, equity and inclusion agendas while providing additional emotional support to students of color. She is the proud parent of a daughter majoring in Sociology and Public Policy. In her spare time, she takes care of a cat colony in Hayward, CA.


Bre’JaynaeJoiner | Community Breastfeeding Peer Counselor

Bre’JaynaeJoiner is a breastfeeding mother of two from Oakland, CA. The 2019 Sociology graduate of CSU East Bay, is a passionate advocate for breastfeeding families in the Bay Area. As a community breastfeeding peer counselor, Bre’Jaynae hopes to build on her skills and knowledge to make sure women and their families have the information and support they need to achieve their birthing and parenting goals.

Chay Tadeo

Chay Tadeo | Reproductive Justice Activist

Chay Tadeo was born and raised in Oakland, on Ohlone land with roots in the West Oakland and Fruitvale neighborhoods. Chay’s passion for activism started in high school as a youth organizer for ethnic studies and comprehensive sex education in the Oakland schools. It was through this that she started to learn of the deep and personal impacts oppressive systems have on women’s bodies and how this can affect whole families and communities. Since then, Chay has been an aspiring birth worker and reproductive justice advocate committed to creating opportunities for people to achieve self-determination and reproductive empowerment. She is immensely grateful for the opportunity to be a Benioff Community Innovator. When she is not working, she can be found organizing with the grassroots Filipina org GABRIELA or in nature with her son Ezequiel. 

Kellye Craig Robertson

Kellye Craig Robertson | Case Manager Black Infant Health

Kellye, a third-generation Oakland Native, has worked in the field of Public Health for over 30 years. Reducing preterm births, bridging the gap of health disparities and improving birth outcomes has led her to her current position of 19 years with The Black Infant Health Program. As a Case Manager and Group Facilitator, Kellye's pursuit to empower, inspire and educate families has enabled her to serve hundreds in her community. Her desire is that social justice prevails and equitable healthcare is available to all. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her husband, horses and dogs.

Sharayah Alexander

Sharayah Alexander | Teacher

Sharayah is a 31-year-old, Oakland born and Bay Area raised wife, mother, business owner, advocate, and warrior. After being diagnosed with Graves’ disease in January 2019, Sharayah resigned from her passionate teaching career, where she educated children of all ages for more than a decade. She views that particular life experience, along with the birth of her daughter as the push she needed to fully walk in her purpose. Sharayah is now the founder of D.o.Y.o.u. LLC, a company she established not only to grow a legacy of generational wealth for her family but to also strengthen and rebuild communities of color.

Instagram: @doyou_llc

Sonia Lizama

Sonia Lizama | Birth and Postpartum Doula

Sonia started her birth work journey while working as a Program Assistant for a nonprofit in Oakland that supports low-income families with Early Head Start, Teen Family Support and Mental Health Services. She is passionate about birth work and making it accessible to BIPOC communities to reduce health disparities and to improve birth and health outcomes. She believes community care is important and that everyone deserves to have informed quality care. She is a certified birth and postpartum “doula”, childbirth educator, breast/chest feeding peer counselor, and child passenger safety technician. Sonia is called to provide traditional birth and postpartum care and aspires to be a Midwife. In her free time, Sonia enjoys traveling, journaling, and spending time with her family.


Tatianna Fuaau | Restorative Justice Practitioner

As a Restorative Justice Practitioner, Tatiana Fuaau is well versed in the theories of change, the historical importance of education, and community empowerment. As a young woman raised and educated in the Bay Area, she has a unique understanding of the landscape of the region as it relates to issues experienced by youth and our community at large.

Tatiana has a record of making impactful differences in her work to both build and restore relationships within the education sector by working with students, teachers, families and administrators to achieve cohesive and long-lasting results.

The biggest tributes to her influence as an educator and restorative practices trainer in Oakland are the strong community bridges among young people and adults as well as the growing number of youth leaders who are thriving by embracing Restorative Justice.

In her free time, Tatiana has begun a new journey as a business owner. The pandemic gave way to a mother-daughter enterprise, and Family Keep Clean Company was born. Dedicated to providing organic hand-made sanitizers and deodorizers, our promise is to help all humans and their pets stay clean, safe and healthy.