The Grand Challenge

In the Spring 2013 issue of Midwifery Today magazine, Vicki Penwell of Mercy in Action issued “A Scholarship Solution and Grand Challenge” to midwifery schools and the midwives in general and understood, perhaps for the first time, what was at stake. One of the main components of this call to action is for midwifery schools and programs to provide more scholarships to students of colors. But few schools and programs have actually instituted these scholarships and other programs that will facilitate students of colors in becoming midwives. Sadly, nothing much has changed – women and babies from communities of colors continue to be disproportionately affected by poor outcomes. Likewise, an increase in the number of training opportunities for the practitioners best set to help and support them has not changed this year either.

Can we count on you and your institution or organization to be the change and join in actively supporting the Grand Challenge?

We birth workers know that racial and class disparities are killing our babies and harming our mothers; we know the solution lies in quality midwifery care and we firmly believe in ‘a midwife for every woman who wants one’. To that end we must come together to support the diversification of midwifery and we must increase our numbers of students and practitioners of color. But our goal is not limited to the practice of midwifery; we are committed to increasing the numbers of students and practitioners of colors in all of the professions that can have a direct positive impact on the maternal and infant outcomes in this country. This includes doulas, childbirth educators, and breastfeeding educators and consultants. This Grand Challenge is for all!

How can you actively support the Grand Challenge?

Our first focus is on increasing the number of scholarships for students of colors to attend schools, programs and trainings for birth workers. There is a dire need for more diverse practitioners who represent the communities of color and other marginalized communities. The current system is not working; for decades, America’s healthcare system has had no impact on reducing disparities in communities of colors and low- income populations. Midwives and birth workers may be part of the answer, but we must reflect the communities we wish to serve.

Mercy in Action has had an informal scholarship program for years, but since issuing this Grand Challenge, Mercy in Action has awarded over a dozen scholarships to its various programs to midwifery students of colors! As Vicki has said “… now we want to make our scholarship program formal to impact the ‘at risk’ populations in America as well as the rest of the world.”

Let’s pull together and join with Vicki as she leads by example, once again. We are compiling a list of all of the midwifery schools and programs, doula trainings, childbirth educator programs, mentors and midwifery preceptors that have answered the Grand Challenge.

We hope that others involved in midwifery and birth worker education will take our ideas, replicate them and scale them up to whatever will help to eliminate the racial disparity in birth outcomes. Vicki and her team continue to show us that anything is possible; where there is a will, there’s a way. We can do better! We can be the change!

If you currently provide scholarships specifically designated for students of colors (or a similar scholarship designation) please let us know! If you would like to precept or mentor a student birth worker of color, please sign up on the web site! We would like to place that information on the Grand Challenge web site (http://wocmidwifescholarship.com/) so that more will know of this opportunity. Please visit our Grand Challenge website often to witness the ever growing list of change agents, like yourself, and championing institutions who are making a difference.

Sincerely,

Claudia Booker and Jennie Joseph