WSW: Momentum Builds on Black Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative

Mar 23, 2015

Participants broke up into five work groups at a brainstorming meeting of the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Initiative held on March 12 at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine. It was the second public meeting since the kickoff last November.
Credit YWCA of Kalamazoo

Four months ago, WMUK reported on the launch of the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Community Action Initiative, a major effort to curb Kalamazoo County’s high rate of black babies dying in their first year of life. A lot has happened since -- two big achievements this month alone. 

Firstly, the initiative's March 12 Collective Impact Workshop, a follow-up public brainstorming session, drew more than 100 people, showing community interest remains high. Then the Michigan Association of Broadcasters recognized the importance of the issue of black infant mortality this month. It awarded WMUK the Best Public Affairs Program for public radio for our WestSouthwest segment with Earlene McMichael interviewing YWCA of Kalamazoo CEO Grace Lubwama about the launch of the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Community Action Initiative in November 2014 (the YWCA is overseeing the endeavor because of Lubwama's prior experience with a similar effort in the Los Angeles area).

YWCA's Grace Lubwama at March 12's public meeting
Credit YWCA of Kalamazoo

Today McMichael is back with an update on WMUK's WestSouthwest. She talks with Lubwama and initiative partners Catherine Kothari, director community research at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, and Lucinda Stinson, deputy director of Community Services for the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services, delving deeper into what the local data is revealing so far about root causes, what recommendations came out of the recent public brainstorming meeting and what the next steps are.

  Alarming statistics from the interview:

  • Black babies died at 4.5 times higher rate than white infants in Kalamazoo County over the last three years, up from 2 to 3 times higher rate about 20 years ago
  • In contrast, Kalamazoo County's overall infant mortality rate for all races has been improving over the last 10 years
  • 85 percent of black women giving birth in Kalamazoo County live in poverty; that percentage is 30 percent for white women
  • Women in poverty have two times higher risk of delivering low birth-weight babies; being underweight makes infants vulnerable to premature death
  • Expectant mothers who are black and poor in Kalamazoo County have a 3.7 times increased risk for birthing underweight babies, which is the main reason for the spike in black infant mortality

Other key points:

  • Less than ideal maternal health and well-being prior to and during pregnancy is contributing to the rise in black infant deaths
  • Namely, black women losing babies locally tend to grapple with inadequate nutrition and prenatal care as well as stress ("the stress of living poor, the stress of living black")
  • Officials believe poverty and racism (i.e. mothers feeling like "lower-class citizens") are among the root causes for Kalamazoo County's elevated black infant mortality rate

The general public is invited to the next meeting of the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Community Action Initiative on May 14. RSVPs are not required. For information, including the location which is still being finalized, contact Jennifer Frank Brenton of the YWCA at (269) 345-5595, ext. 313, or, at