The Missionary Movement to ‘Save’ Black Babies


by Akiba Solomon
Thursday, May 2 2013, 7:40 AM EST.
This article is part of topic: Gender & Sexuality

Last December, Care Net—the nation’s largest network of evangelical Christian crisis pregnancy centers—featured a birth announcement of sorts on the website of its 10-year-old Urban Initiative. Under the headline, “Plans Underway for Care Net’s Newest Center in Kansas City, Mo.!” a block of upbeat text described how a predominantly white, suburban nonprofit called Rachel House had “made contact” with “various African American pastors and community leaders,” who helped them “plant” a “pregnancy resource center” in a predominantly black, poor section of downtown Kansas City.

Rachel House’s mission is clear: It is an evangelical ministry with the primary goal of “protecting the unborn.” But the nonprofit doesn’t do picket signs and bloody-fetus images. Instead, it draws in young women facing unintended pregnancies with things like free pregnancy testing, first-trimester ultrasounds and baby supplies. 

Sherry Payne is a wildcard on the Kansas City reproductive health scene. Born and raised in the easternmost (aka, the blackest) part of town, the 50-year-old had her first child at 16, a second at 17, then six more after she got married. Payne calls herself a product of crisis pregnancy centers like Rachel House.

Payne’s experience prompted her to transition out of nursing. She became a nurse educator and now she’s in her final year of midwifery education, a passion since she had six of her eight children at home. She also started a nonprofit called Uzazi Village, to combat black infant mortality rates in her city. With her own funds, Payne opened Uzazi in a storefront on 36th and Troost Ave., the city’s dividing line between poor and rich, black and white.

The deliberately homey, loft-like space has shiny wooden floors and African-inspired wall hangings. Here, Uzazi promotes natural, home-based childbirth. It also offers its clients free pregnancy testing and pregnancy confirmation for Medicaid eligibility; free doula and breastfeeding support; training for emerging doulas of color; STI/STD information and even support groups for LGBT youth. Payne doesn’t use the phrase “reproductive justice,” but Uzazi Village certainly embodies the concept.

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