For Rootead Doulas, Justice Begins At Birth

Kama Mitchell
Kama Mitchell, executive director of Rootead, co-founded the organization in 2014.

Kama Mitchell was exhausted, but happy in the days after supporting a client through a lengthy birth process that she called “a huge adventure.”

It’s not all that different from the way she describes the work being done by Rootead, the nonprofit organization she co-founded in 2014. Mitchell serves as executive director of Rootead, which was built on a mission of birthing justice and body awareness. It includes programs in African roots and culture, youth empowerment, family enrichment and now birth work, a branch of the organization that aims to reduce the African-American infant mortality rate in Kalamazoo.

To address the issue, Rootead has formed a doula collective to serve an at-risk population of mothers, babies and families. The program is funded in part by a supportive grant from United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

The process has been long and arduous, Mitchell says, but also fulfilling.

“The collective is strong and well,” she said. “It feels really good, but it’s just baby steps. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so awesome. When one of us gets to a birth, or we have a breakthrough about something, it’s just a resurge of why we’re doing it. But it’s hard.”

Artwork hangs on the wall of Rootead’s studio space.

A doula, Mitchell explains, is a non-medical support person for the laboring mother and her family. That could mean many different types of support, depending on what the client wants or needs, as well as the setting in which the birth takes place.

“I offer spiritual, educational, informational and physical support – any of those that they want,” she said.

Twelve Rootead doulas are in various stages of certification. Nine are women of color, two are bilingual, and all of them have completed DONA International training in partnership with Birth Kalamazoo.
Mitchell expects that half of the women will be fully certified by fall. Many of them have specific areas of interest, such as breastfeeding, postpartum care, prenatal yoga or natural nutrition, and will focus some of their continued education on those areas.

Rootead is a new partner of Cradle Kalamazoo, a multi-agency community initiative led by YWCA Kalamazoo and funded in part by United Way. The initiative, which includes more than 30 partner agencies, aims to reduce infant death and promote respect for families, women and their children. Research shows that in our Kalamazoo and Battle Creek region, African-American babies are four times more likely to die before their first birthday than their white counterparts. That racial disparity is why health equity is a key component in Cradle Kalamazoo’s mission. Mitchell is glad to hear that it’s now a major part of the infant mortality conversation.

“It’s so refreshing, it’s so liberating to know that we’re all getting on the same page with it,” she said.

Mitchell and Ashley Espinosa, Rootead’s director of doulas, co-wrote a curriculum last summer centered on critical culturally competent doula work. It was a 10-hour course that all of the Rootead doulas have completed. The training covers ways to advocate respectfully for the populations they aim to serve – immigrants, black and low-income families, LGBTQ, refugees and others.

“The catalyst to all of our planning and our movement is really making sure that we are being culturally competent and meeting women where they’re at, and asking them what they want and need rather than trying to give them what we think they should have,” Mitchell said. “It’s very important to us as a collective that we’re always coming from that culturally competent side.”

Rootead’s doula collective currently meets monthly to further strengthen its strategy and develop a financial model. This summer, Rootead plans to hit the streets to pass out information and spread the word about what the doulas can offer to families.

Mitchell said they’re ready for the work ahead.

“It’s hard,” she said, “but most things fulfilling are.”

For more information on Rootead, visit their website or find them on Facebook.

Please join us in supporting organizations like Rootead that are helping to change the story for babies and families in our region.