Rally for Black Birth Justice

We held the first California Rally for Black Birth Justice on May 11! Take part in an ongoing movement to mobilize statewide solutions for improved Black infant and maternal health outcomes.

Share your call for Black birth justice with our social media toolkit. Access it here!

Read our report "Road to Black Birth Justice in California," which details the experiences of Black families and our recommendations moving forward.  

Access the Report

With support from the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy, UCSF’s California Preterm Birth Initiative has developed recommendations informed by community-based organizations and programs, county and state leadership, and most importantly, Black women and birthing people. The experiences of those who have given birth in California and have engaged with services and institutions responsible for the wellbeing and health of our communities are at the heart of our recommendations. The recommendations shared reflect ideas, visions, expectations, and solutions on how we can do better and ensure Black families experience happy and healthy births in our state.

The California Preterm Birth Initiative is proud to contribute to the groundswell of advocates and families mobilizing for Black birth justice over the years. Our goal is to amplify this long-standing issue and highlight promising solutions to advance Black infant and maternal health in California and beyond. Tune in to the rally on May 11th to hear from Black mothers, advocates, and policy leaders and learn more about how you can contribute to the movement for Black birth justice!


Solaire Spellen | PTBi, Associate Director

Solaire Spellen is the Associate Director of the California Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF. As part of the executive leadership team, she is committed to advancing racial equity and birth justice in partnership with community. Solaire was previously the Associate Director of PTBi’s San Francisco Collective Impact partner, Expecting Justice, and carried out her graduate student research with PTBi’s SOLARS study. With a strong background in Black maternal health research and community engagement, Solaire works to empower organizations and thought leaders to address racism as a root cause of health disparities through sustainable, community-informed solutions.

Alexis Cobbins | PTBi, Executive Director

Alexis Cobbins is the Executive Director of the California Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF. She has worked as a Social Worker with over 10 years of experience providing culturally relevant and responsive services through a trauma-informed approach. With a Masters of Social Work from California State University, East Bay, Alexis is deeply experienced in this field, providing culturally relevant and responsive services, trauma-informed care/systems, grief and loss therapy related to community violence, reflective practice, and anti-racism work. She has also served as a postpartum doula. After experiencing a preterm birth with her second child, Alexis’ interest in building her career around reducing the burden of prematurity was ignited. All of Alexis’ personal and professional experiences drive her passion to improve birth outcomes for Black women and other women of color.

Shanell Williams | PTBi, Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships

Shanell Williams is the Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships for the California Preterm Birth Initiative and a member of the Board of Trustees at City College of San Francisco. Over the past 16 years, Shanell has served thousands of San Franciscans as an informed, passionate and dedicated public advocate, nonprofit leader and community organizer. From mentoring youth trapped in cycles of incarceration—to saving city college from a near loss of accreditation and closure for the past four years—Shanell has worked tirelessly to improve all San Franciscan’s quality of life.

Riya Jacob | PTBi, Program Manager

Riya Jacob is the Program Manager for the CA Maternal and Infant Health project with the Preterm Birth Initiative. With 10 years of experience in healthcare and research, Riya has focused on improving outcomes of vulnerable populations from geriatric veterans, low-income families, and communities facing disparities. Riya has spent the last 3.5 years dedicating her professional efforts to racial equity and birth justice for Black and Brown families.


Niambi Lewis | Chief of Health Equity Initiatives, California Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division

Malia Cohen | Chair of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE) from the 2nd District

Nancy Skinner | California State Senator

Holly Mitchell | California State Senator

London Breed | Mayor of San Francisco


TaVia Wooley-Iles

TaVia is a Native to the Antelope Valley. She has spent over 20 years in the social services field working with and advocating on behalf of families in need. She is the mom to 5 children and through her birthing experiences she now spends her time advocating and educating others in the importance of Black Maternal health and ensuring the birthing individual is seen and heard. When Tavia is not advocating she can be found spending her free time with her family and crafting.

Sakari Lyons

Sakari, means “brown sugar” or “something sweet” in Swahili, she has lived up to her name. Sakari Lyons holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and Sociology, a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) and has been employed with the County of Solano, Health and Social Services in the Public Health Department, leading the Solano County, Black Infant Health Program for over 13 years. She is a Part-time Professor at the California State University, East Bay, her Alma mater, in the Masters-level Social Work Department. Ms. Lyons is a mother of 5 bio children, a lifelong partner, to her “Honey” the love her life and community organizer and leader of Solano County. Ms. Lyons is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Board Member of Live in Peace a San Francisco based non-profit and Essie Justice Group sister/member.

Zea Malawa

Zea Malawa is a mother, pediatrician and public health professional committed to improving health outcomes for children of color.  Upon completing her undergraduate degree at Columbia University, she earned a medical doctorate from UCLA and a master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley. Currently, Dr. Malawa is the director of Expecting Justice, a public health program that uses systems change and justice-oriented approaches to close the racial gap in birth outcomes; she also sees patients at Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco, teaches anti-racism at UC Berkeley, and is the Vice Chair of San Francisco's First 5 Commission.

Taleia Wheeler

Taleia Wheeler is a creative artist whose resume includes radio, stage, as well as in front of and behind the camera. Her clients (or employees) have included such knowns as Disney, New York Knicks, Nike Communications, The Kennedy Center, just to name a few. Her most recent work can be found puppeteering (and voicing) characters on Higher Ground Production/Netflix’s “Waffles and Mochi” and Hoorae/HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” Season 3. She is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. And with her most recent role of mother, she has no days off, but the payout has been priceless.


Payshia Edwards

Payshia Edwards is a women’s reproductive and maternal health advocate, Certified Lactation Education Specialist, and Birth Doula. She has over six years of experience in healthcare administration and public health working with historically oppressed and marginalized communities. Describing herself as a lover of laughter, joy, and self-expression, she hopes to spread more love and light to the communities she serves.