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Issiah Davis
  • Black pregnant people in Tennessee are three times more likely to die than their white counterparts.
  • Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) and collaborator Peake Wellness created Black Birth Wellness Grants in partnership with Healthline Media to meet the need for improved maternal health care for black people in Memphis, TN.
  • Pregnant people of all genders and sexual orientations (who are at least 12 weeks) in the Memphis, TN, area were invited to apply for this grant.

On April 11, the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) kicked off Black Maternal Health Week by opening the application process for their Black Birth Wellness grant cycle.

The organization partnered with Peake Wellness, a Memphis-based organization that supports people before, during, and after their pregnancy with holistic wellness and education.

Because BEAM supports healing from a holistic perspective, they value the connection between mental health, maternal, and reproductive health.

Yolo Akili Robinson, Healing Justice Worker and founder and executive director of BEAM, said, “We wanted to highlight that important intersection by directly supporting our communities and sharing the knowledge we knew would come out of that to incentivize other organizations and funders to support these efforts.”

Robinson spoke to how healthcare disparities in the United States created the necessity for this type of grant.

“We have to help people understand that being a Black, pregnant person in the United States — where Black people are under constant assault, intergenerational and ongoing trauma lives in our bodies, and medical systems dismiss Black women’s needs, leading to high rates of mortality — means having to make a case that all of that distress is connected to anxiety, depression, and the mental health of Black pregnant people,” said Robinson.

“It’s absurd, but expected, and we hope this project gets us all to a place where that is no longer a question,” Robinson said. “We plan to continue and expand this offering as we grow as an institution.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that nearly 700 people in the U.S. died in 2018 from pregnancy-related complications. These rates increased an estimated 14% in 2020, with Black women being three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women.

According to the CDC, two out of three of these deaths were preventable.

In Tennessee, 100% of recent pregnancy-related deaths were deemed preventable. These staggering numbers, BEAM’s positive history with Peake Wellness, and the organization’s commitment to supporting southern communities led to this collaboration.

Miajenell Peake, founder of Peake Wellness, shared how the high rates of maternal mortality in the Memphis area contributed to her decision to pursue doula work and expressed her excitement for this partnership.

The state of Tennessee recognized these maternal health disparities as an issue. Democratic Representative London Lamar introduced a bill last year that would recognize doula workers as important health and community workers.

The resolution was passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, and was signed by Republican Governor Bill Lee in March 2021.

Other widespread efforts include:

  • federal pushes such as the MOMS Act in 2020, which focused on expanding Medicaid postpartum coverage
  • creation of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, supporting 12 bills toward Black maternal health in 2021
  • countless local efforts that focused on education, advocacy, and direct service

In an effort to support these efforts in a major way, Healthline Media partnered with BEAM’s Black Wellness Innovation Fund last summer.

Healthline Media previously collaborated with BEAM on their Black Trans Women Wellness Grant to increase opportunity and support for people already doing work within their communities.

Laurie Dewan, Healthline VP of Customer Insights and Analytics, works closely with this partnership. She said, “This grant is part of BEAM’s Black Wellness Innovation Fund — a visionary series of grant programs designed to sustainably address unmet mental health needs within Black communities and build a national movement dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of marginalized communities.”

The Black Birth Wellness grant makes the second collaborative grant with more coming down the pike.

Applicants who meet the criteria will be chosen by an unbiased, randomized lottery. Applications for the cycle closed on April 29, and recipients are expected to be announced soon.