Brittany “Tru” Kellman will give the keynote address Friday at MU’s Annual Black Studies Fall Conference, which this year focuses on racial disparities in health.

Kellman is the founding director of Jamaa Birth Village, a nonprofit midwifery and doula organization based in Ferguson. Her talk, “Black Maternal Health in Missouri: Implementing Thriving Solutions That Work,” will be informed by her work.

In Missouri, there is a stark racial disparity in health outcomes for African Americans. For example, from 2005 to 2015 in Boone County, black babies were three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Jamaa Birth Village gets its name from the Swahili word for family. It aims to reduce the racial disparities in health outcomes for women of color and their babies. The organization has worked with hundreds of families to provide prenatal and perinatal care since it opened in 2015, and has trained over 75 doulas of color in the St. Louis region, according to its website.

The organization also offers childbirth and nutrition education, breastfeeding and postpartum support, parent support groups, donations for mothers and babies, doula training and training and support for student midwives of color.

Health outcomes for women of color have a poor history in the U.S., and Missouri is below average:

In 2018, Missouri’s maternal mortality rate was 32.6 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than 50% higher than the national rate, according to America’s Health Rankings.

  • In 2017, Missouri’s infant mortality rate was 5.1 out of every 1,000 births for white babies, but more than twice as high for black babies, at 13 for every 1,000, according to a report from the Department of Health and Senior Services.
  • Just 7.4 of 1,000 white babies had low birth weights the same year, while over 100% more black babies did, at 15.4 for every 1,000.
  • 16.1 out of every 1,000 white mothers had inadequate prenatal care, while 35 of every 1,000 black mothers did.

Across all racial groups, rates of inadequate prenatal care increased from 2016 to 2017. Inadequate prenatal care is defined as fewer than eight visits for full-term pregnancies, fewer than five for preterm pregnancies or care beginning only after the first four months of pregnancy.

From 2016 to 2017, the number of children born to mothers on WIC, SNAP and Medicaid decreased. Missouri’s birthrate decreased by 10% from 2007 to 2017, and teen births have decreased more than 53% over the same period.

Increasingly, many women have decided to use midwives or doulas in recent years, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

In 2018, Kellman won the Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award for her work providing care to underserved communities in the greater St. Louis region.

Daive Dunkley, MU professor and the conference’s chair, said he hopes to see the speakers make connections between the health disparities of African Americans and the global black community.

“We have panels not only on the U.S., but panels on the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. So the conference is aiming to give us an insight into health challenges among black people in the U.S., and further, outside the U.S.,” he said.

Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.

  • Public Health and Safety reporter, fall 2020 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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