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'It takes a village': Kansas City nonprofit to host annual Black infant mortality awareness walk

Leishcele Carter and her baby Tre
Posted at 7:32 PM, Sep 15, 2023

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Uzazi Village, a Kansas City-based nonprofit aimed at providing community-based maternal care, is hosting its ninth annual Black Infant Mortality Awareness Walk on Saturday.

“We really just want to send a message to the community, to the healthcare providers, to the lawmakers and the policy holders in our community as a whole that the survival of our Black babies is an issue that affects us all,” said Ceciley Wong, director of education at Uzazi Village.

The walk first originated in 2014 after co-founder and CEO of Uzazi Village, Hakima Tafunzi Payne, attempted to walk across the entire state of Missouri via the Katy Trail.

But after a car accident in Jefferson City, the walk was cut short. After that, it moved to Kansas City, where it has been ever since.

Uzazi Village leadership participating in a previous Black Infant Mortality Awareness Walk.

“We invite our greater community to join us in solidarity as we walk to let our city know that our babies deserve better,” Payne (known in community as Mama Hakima) said. “Our African-American families are still more than twice as likely to lose their infants before their first birthday in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts. This walk is a chance for the community to come together and urge healthcare and government systems to address this disparity.”

Kansas Health Matters reports that in a measurement period of data from 2017-2021 in the Kansas City metro area, the infant mortality rate for Black babies was 10.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births, whereas the rate for white infants was 3.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births.

“There’s also issues where racism is pervasive not only in society, but also when you go into an office or when you go into a doctor’s office,” said Dr. Devika Maulik, who works in maternal and fetal medicine at University Hospital, a sponsor of Saturday’s event.

Seeing racism manifest as tangible numbers and incidents over the years has been eye-opening for many people.

“The percentage and the ratio of how many do die as Black people is alarming,” said Leishcele Carter, a mother of an 8-week-old baby named Tre.

Carter is a client of Uzazi Village’s and says the care she received was extremely validating.

“I really just appreciated being able to go to the center and be looked at as a human and get care for me and my little human without like feeling like I was just a number,” Carter said.

Carter works as a home visitor in the Kansas City area with parents prenatal to three years old.

She says working in this field exposed her to the harsh realities of this disparity, but having a child of her own made it even more real.

“I was aware, but I didn’t understand,” she said.

That’s why she is grateful to have found a place like Uzazi Village.

Carter with her Uzazi Village support group of midwives/doulas after Tre's birth.

“Having my midwives, having my doula to call and ask those questions, especially those first two weeks, was really helpful for my journey,” Carter said.

Uzazi Village also represents a possible bridge between the divide that exists between patients and they clients when it comes to trust.

“Sometimes we do have to lean on community and really extraordinary places and organizations like Uzazi, which in my experience, has been very critical in my development as a physician and a person,” Maulik said.

Maulik, Wong and Carter all agreed that support is a critical aspect when it comes to advocating for Black babies and their mothers.

“By the time I got [to Uzazi], I was like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna make it all the way through.’ Just because of the support that we had,” Carter said.

The walk begins at the Kansas City Health Department at 9 a.m., and in-person registration begins at 8 a.m.

It ends approximately 2.5 miles down Troost Avenue at Uzazi Village. Those interested in attending can register here.

Those who cannot attend the event but want to support the mission can visit and donate.