How Birth Arts International is Making a Difference in Black Maternal Health

Meet Demetria Clark. CEO and Founder of Birth Arts International. BAI has been a training organization for birth and postpartum professionals for over 20 years! Demetria is making sure that Birth Arts International is a welcoming organization for Black professionals. Doing the work to talk about the difficult topics. Demetria has been doing the work for years. Not just recently. I'll be talking more, in a video about ways Demetria has played a role in my life as a Black birth professional. In the meantime, check out this awesome interview.

How do you strive to keep BAI inclusive for Black students? Honestly, it is something that I seek guidance on a lot. I want Black students not to worry if they have a home here; it should not be an issue, but it is. The world is. I know I am not perfect; I know I am still working to be better every day. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I know I can do better and then work towards that goal.

I want all our students to understand that race plays a HUGE part in birth safety. Race will play a role in how their clients are treated, spoken to, and worked with. Students need to understand that Black students will face racism when supporting clients too.

I try to listen to students and find a way to serve their needs, sometimes one on one, sometimes in the student group. I remind students in lectures that if they have a problem with someone talking about race or explaining a racial issue, it is their problem, they need to take the time to learn more, ignorance is not an excuse, and that it is not appropriate to ask Black students to explain why something is racist or inappropriate. In one lecture, I joke, "Let me google that for you." We all have the world at our fingertips; we can all take the time to learn; if we opt to forgo that, it is genuinely our problem.

So, I try to make sure we have a robust scholarship program to encourage Black students to start their careers or add us to their resumes. Since the first day BAI was formed, we have had a scholarship program. I have never turned anyone down for a scholarship, ever.

How do you make sure you are educating non-Black students on Black-centered issues? Paying Black experts to offer lectures for our classroom. At BAI, I don't believe in free labor, so every guest lecturer we have in our classroom is paid a sustainable wage for their time and expertise. I also believe in hiring diverse experts. What do I mean by this? I don't want Black lecturers to only speak on Black issues. I know I am not saying this as eloquently as I want. Students need to see faces that look like theirs on all subjects. I feel we will continue to have this problem if we continue these practices. As a white training organization owner, I want my students to feel represented. I want to provide them with role models who feel good to them. We have a very small behind-the-scenes structure at BAI, so finding quality supportive lectures for students is always fun for me.

What advice would you give to non-Black organizations to help them to be inclusive and competent? I am not sure I am the best person to give advice. I know I am not always getting it right….. If I were to say anything like advice, it would be to listen to your students and follow their lead. Support them. Set up phone calls, check-in with them. Give money to Black organizations and Black birth workers. Make donations. Support Black training organizations, support Black birth workers and birth artisans. Black birth workers have been the backbone of the United States for over 400 years. Just think about that. Many people in the US would not be here today without the expertise of Black birth workers; that is how deep our societal connection runs to Black birth workers.

What advice would you give non-Black birth workers to help them be better prepared to serve Black families? Stumble, fall, get back up, and be better. Sometimes our best intentions are crap. Learn when you mess up, don't get defensive. Don't quit because you got called out or embarrassed. Don't trash talk others you don't agree with on social media or make it all about your feelings. Do better.

Ask families what they need. Be okay if for that birth it isn't you. Have a referral network. Be a resource. Work to facilitate connection. Don't think you are saving anyone by working with them. Don't assume anything because of someone's race. Ask questions, do the research, take the time to learn and grow.

Take classes from Black trainers, from Black anti-racism experts; if you are a BAI student, use your classroom resources, ask for referrals when you need more.

Do your research. Spend some time looking things up. Ask questions on where to find quality resources.

Right now, there are so many webinars on racial justice in the birth, nursing, and postpartum world; take them. Right now, we have access to TED talks and other round table events; listen to them.

If you want to serve Black families, work to be a trusted resource. Take the time to perfect your skills. Don't ask individual Black birth workers to educate you. Don't ask them to explain it all. Take the time to educate yourself. I still take classes. I still read journal articles and research; I will always have more to learn.

Why is it important for non-Black birth workers to acknowledge racial inequalities? Not doing so is racist. It is racist to deny facts about what we know the Black birth experience is in this country. It is willful ignorance. We should be fighting for each other and believing each other. Just because "you" haven't experienced or witnessed it doesn't make what someone says any less real or true. When we ignore racial inequalities for whatever reason, our comfort, not wanting to rock the boat, etc.. we are saying it is okay for Black birthing parents to die 3-4x more than white birthing parents. People may not be saying it out loud, but it is being heard clearly. As a birth worker who is being trusted with families' care, you have to pay attention and try to be better. So, we all have to work through the hard conversations; we all have to acknowledge room to grow.

In what ways can privilege be used to fight against racial inequalities in birth work? Use that privilege to make birth better. Use that privilege to step aside on issues and listen to the voices that are talking. Use your privilege to support businesses and entities that are advocating and represent underserved communities. Don't frame conversations around you to your needs; listen to them and believe what voices speak and share with you.

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