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Black Equity and Excellence: Bringing Opportunity to Everyone

Giving Voice Spring 2021: Cover Story

PICTURED ABOVE: Sequoia Kemp, Co-Founder of Sankofa Reproductive Health & Healing Center

For most soon-to-be mothers, the months leading up to the big day are filled with trepidation, excitement and hope. But for Black women, this time period also comes with confusion and fear.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, infant mortality rates among Black babies are 11 per 1,000 born versus 4.8 for those that are White. Major contributors to this discrepancy are decades of bias and racist policies in banking, real estate and healthcare that have led members of the Black community to experience financial insecurity, gaps in health insurance coverage, and less access to healthy food and quality care.

Syracuse’s Sankofa Reproductive Health & Healing Center, a nonprofit organization that offers free health and wellness programs, is working to change that locally by providing community doula care for Black women.

There’s A Need to Address Childbirth in a Cultural Way That Is Lacking for Many Women of African Descent,” said Asteir Bey, co-director of the U.S. operations of Village Birth International, the center’s fiscal sponsor. “Syracuse has high poverty and issues around Black reproductive healthcare that are misunderstood or poorly managed.”

Woman holding instructional props
Sequoia Kemp, Co-Founder of Sankofa Reproductive Health & Healing Center

A grant from our Black Equity & Excellence Fund provided Sankofa with funding to hire more Black doulas and increase its maternal health community outreach and education. This is 1 of 27 grants totaling $544,889 we awarded over the past 6 months through the fund’s first 2 rounds of grantmaking.

We established the fund in June 2020, committing to invest at least $1 million in Black-led organizations working in historically underserved communities and projects that counteract inequities. An all-Black advisory council reviews grant proposals and makes funding decisions.

The fund’s creation was inspired by large demonstrations in Central New York and across the world calling for an end to racism. The demonstrations galvanized a national reckoning about the country’s legacy of slavery and the role structural racism plays in creating inequities in education, housing, healthcare and employment – leading opportunity in America to traditionally depend on who you are and where you come from.

Another Black Equity & Excellence Fund grant recipient, Healing through Art Therapy, received support for programming for Black youth that experience activity limitations.

“Disabilities in brown and Black communities are not talked about. Back in the day, families took care of their families at home,” said LaToya Jones, founder and president.

A virtual art program will include discussion with a mental health professional. “Kids can be more expressive when they’re doing art,” Jones said. “They are able to talk with each other in a safe space.”

She hopes at least 10 youth participate, and she looks forward to in-person events that connect Black youth that experience activity limitations and their families with resources.
Bey hopes the Sankofa Center grows, too. “Our community has always been organizing against injustice. This is just the beginning.”

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