I was two months pregnant with my first child when I became aware of our community’s infant mortality crisis.
Still a little shell-shocked from the discovery that I was pregnant, I was tentative and keeping things quiet, careful to avoid doing anything that might endanger this tiny little being. It was during this time that I heard a presentation by Dr. Cathy Kothari on the data, trends and disparities of infant mortality rates. I remember most how shocked and sickened I felt when I grasped for the first time that black babies were four times more likely to die before their first birthday than their white counterparts.
Three years later, my son has celebrated two happy birthdays. Our community’s black babies are still dying at a rate three times higher than white babies.
Dynamic collaboration is taking place regionally around infant mortality, the fruit of seeds planted by advocates and activists like Dr. Arthur James. They have worked tirelessly – and often thanklessly – to bring this issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness. United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region is now working with passionate, diverse partners to increase awareness of this crisis and to fundamentally change the broken systems that are creating these outcomes.
This is deeply personal work for me — because of my son; because hearing the stories of the families impacted has changed me; because so many of these deaths are preventable.
It should be deeply personal to all of us. Losing a single child’s light – their immeasurable potential – hurts the soul of our community.
This month, we are inviting the region to join us in our first United Way Diaper Drive. Diaper need is one symptom of the financial stress and disconnection from resources that too many of our families are experiencing. I hope that you’ll consider giving of your resources, both time and treasure, so we can ensure that all families and young children in our community feel loved and cared for.
Editor’s note: Contributed by Alyssa Stewart, Director of Strategy and Engagement at United Way.