Giving Our Community Advisory Board Their Flowers

The “Reflections from the Community Advisory Board” video series does not only share kudos for the work that our community advisors have done for the last seven years but also puts on full display the beauty and unique value of partnering authentically with the community. The series debuted at the Oakland Museum of California in November 2023 and was produced in-house by Director of Communications Areca Smit. 

As a multi-year research enterprise housed at an academic institution, we could not have made the impacts we have without the expertise of our community advisors — from training community researchers to be able to present their findings to lawmakers to enabling culturally congruent recruitment of families in the NICU to participate in cutting-edge research that could save future preterm babies from adverse outcomes.

Director of Community Engagement and Partnership Shanell Williams shared, “For seven years, the California Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi) had the honor of partnering with more than 30 advocates, including parents, doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, and birth justice leaders from San Francisco, Oakland, and Fresno. These collaborations sit at the core of our success.”

The “Reflections” series exemplifies how our initiative and community advisors have grown together because our endeavor was built on a foundation of reciprocity. As much as the community advisors learned about the science, research, and policy that affect birth outcomes, we learned about the importance of care, generosity, and mutual respect. 

“I have always wanted to be a family and community liaison. I always wanted to be that person who bridges the gap between those who are harmed and the people who harm them,” said Hope Williams-Burt. “This work with Preterm Birth Initiative has allowed me to tap into my ability to give voice, to validate what I already knew I could do.”

A mom to a preemie, Williams-Burt began investing her time and expertise in our organization even before we were an initiative. Since then, she has been featured on the local news and even spoke at an event alongside Vice President Kamala Harris hosted at UCSF in collaboration with the White House. Today, she is a full-time community advocate and advisor for community-partnered work and policy in the city and county of San Francisco. 

Wendy Martinez Marroquin, an educator, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, was part of our community advisory for three years.

“It’s really important to show up to spaces where people are working towards transformation because you will find hope, you will find community, you will find love, and you will find a way forward,” she explained. “In isolation, in contraction, that’s the way to die. What I have learned at PTBi is truly to live in an expansive way.”

In Marroquin’s video, she talks about how she came into her power and found that her unique identity, i.e. positionality, provides expert insight. As a Brown woman with adjacency to whiteness and experience with being undocumented, Marroquin, like Williams-Burt, felt like she was able to serve as a “bridge for people who may not have the opportunity to come together.”

A mom of a preemie, Tina Searcy served on our community advisory board for two years and represented Fresno. She emphasized that being a part of the board allowed her “to collaborate with women who were just like [her] who had experiences, who had babies in the NICU, who had gone through traumatic things in their life when it came to their pregnancy.”

For individuals and organizations wanting to partner with community members and/or start a community advisory board, the Reflections series and its accompanying video “On Working With Community” is a perfect place to start. Hear from these former community advisory board members on how their personal experience translates to valued expertise and what are the most important considerations when seeking organizational support.

At the end of the day, Shanell Williams frames it perfectly: “Through it all, we have been bound by a shared commitment to Black birth justice — specifically safety for all Black women and birthing people — and also bound by love for each other.”

The “Reflections” video series showcases the journeys of ten former members of the UCSF PTBi Community Advisory Board and can be found at These short videos can be screened individually at home or in a compilation for an audience. For more information about hosting a screening, please email [email protected]