Reaffirming Our Commitment

Dear PTBi Community,
Apologies for our external silence. The events that have unfolded over the last couple of weeks have had an immense impact on our team, and we needed time to speak internally with each other and express our collective rage, frustration, and sadness. We needed to prioritize making space to listen, support one another, re-center, and refocus.
Our team has spent time discussing the senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others whose lives have sadly been taken unjustly. As an organization whose mission is to reduce racial disparities in preterm birth, we unequivocally denounce these actions and hold our government, our institutions and ourselves accountable. We recognize that the same racist dynamics that led to these killings are what drive untold numbers of death and disability within the reproductive life course. Racism is the pandemic.
Three years ago, we began to evolve our mission to focus on addressing structural and interpersonal racism as key drivers of preterm birth. We started monthly race equity trainings for our team and are now entering our third year of the program. This year we focused specifically on tackling anti-blackness with curriculum developed and taught by Dante King. The makeup of our staff changed from a minority to a majority of people of color, including at the top with the promotion of former PTBi Community Advisory Board member Alexis Cobbins to interim program director (Watch this space, more announcements on that coming soon.).
We adopted an anti-racist framework for conducting research and created a process to identify research questions of highest priority for Black and Brown families to ensure we were investing in the right—and most relevant—research. We created and established a community scientist development program, the Benioff Community Innovators, specifically for community members of color, and we made sure that all research grant proposals we reviewed also had input from the community. We increased investment in studies specifically focused on Black women’s experiences throughout the reproductive life course. This includes the launch of the SOLARS (Supporting Our Ladies and Reducing Stress to Prevent Preterm Birth) study. Led by Brittany Chambers and run by an all-women-of-color team, SOLARS looks at the impact of stress, resilience and coping on birth outcomes in Black and Latina/x women.

We invested in cross-sector collaboration to affect real change and innovation, as evidenced by the launch of an important study by our SF collective impact group, Expecting Justice, led by Zea Malawa. Called the Abundant Birth Project, it will provide and evaluate the impact of income supplementation during pregnancy among Black and Pacific Islander birthing persons. To improve birth and all health outcomes in Fresno, we shifted our entire focus to the Black community, investing in a neighborhood transformation program named the Fresno GROWS Best Babies Zone. Our largest study, EMBRACE, which is redeveloping and comparing group prenatal care vs. traditional prenatal care, also focuses specifically on improving Black birth outcomes.

We challenged and changed institutional policies to allow for more opportunities to work with small businesses so that we could partner with more Black entrepreneurs. And, guided by the input and ideas of 100 community members throughout the Bay Area and Fresno, we developed and launched a public awareness campaign, Voices for Birth Justice, that intentionally centers Black voices. Finally and most importantly, we made and continue to make space for intense conversations about the ways white supremacy and anti-Blackness show up in our daily lives and in our own institution and the steps we need to take to dismantle these systems of Black oppression.
While this is great progress that was made possible through your collaboration and support, we know we still have much work to do. This is just the start of the journey to achieve birth equity, and we must keep trying to do better.
We wanted to openly share our anti-racism action plan at PTBi—the principles through which we have been working to do better—and, at a time that feels hopeless, our resolve to double down on these actions. Our hope is that it might also inspire other academic research organizations to examine their own action plans (or create them now) because we know they are sorely missing. While an academic research organization may be very different from a community-based or direct-services organization, we can break down institutional structural barriers, work to authentically connect with the communities we serve, and be constantly willing to check our work to ensure it is still the right work—and re-balance when it is not.
Join us as we re-affirm our commitment to:

  • Tightening our focus on Black-led and Black-focused birth research
  • Continue hiring more Black staff and more Black faculty
  • Developing more ways to support and hold space for our Black colleagues, community advisory board members and partners
  • Continue elevating and championing the voices and work of Black team members, researchers, providers and advocates at UCSF and at large
  • Continue developing our community workforce and capacity building programs and hiring from the communities we invest in whenever we can
  • Continue calling out racist systems and educating non-black researchers and academics on how they can begin to dismantle racism within their research programs and organizations
  • Continue elevating strength, resilience, and an asset-based framework
  • Ensuring our whole staff recognize the great power that each one of us hold in inspiring and creating change for good
  • Continue to be constantly aware of the trauma our Black colleagues and community members face on a daily basis.

And, especially, we will continue to center our thoughts on the Black birthing persons who are currently pregnant and the toll the stress is taking on them and their unborn children. We will also always remember that this stress and fear is ever-present and reaches far beyond this moment. Thank you, Loren Newman, for reminding us of this.

This list is just a snapshot of the work we have ahead. We’re proud of the work PTBi is doing and the researchers, staff, community scientists, and advisors committed to making it happen. We recognize the difference between intent and impact and know our next steps won’t be without errors but hopefully still in the right direction.

We invite you to share your thoughts on other ways we can and should take action. Please email us at [email protected] and [email protected].

We will continue to act and fight as if it were our own children and spouses whose lives are at risk. Thank you, Daphina Melbourne, for giving us this battle cry.

In solidarity,
Alexis Cobbins and Larry Rand
Interim Program Director and Principal Investigator