The Howard men’s basketball team kicked off Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17) by hosting White House Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator, Chiquita Brooks-Lasure, for an open discussion. Black Maternal Health Week was created by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to bring attention to the absence of maternal health resources for Black women in the United States.
The group, composed of Coach Daniel Marks, men’s basketball team members, managers, and a few medical students, gathered in Howard’s Burr Gymnasium to address the grave issue of Black maternal health. A continuation of the team’s active social justice project, the conversation with Brooks-Lasure, the first Black woman to hold the CMS administrator position, was eye-opening in more ways than one.
Brooks-Lasure, a mother herself, received quality care and assistance during her pregnancy. Therefore, she was shocked to see this was not the case for all Black women. In 2020, 861 women died from pregnancy and postpartum complications, with 39 percent being Black women. In DC, Black women are four times more likely than the national average to die during labor or postpartum. She explained that most of the complications come from a lack of care and resources from the point of conception, which stems from a history of marginalization.
The White House CMS administration has been looking for ways to tackle this issue head-on, including incentivizing hospitals and expanding Medicaid postpartum from two to twelve months.
Avidly listening to the discussion was Ronelle Raymond, a first-year medical student from Georgia, who has dreams of practicing obstetrics and gynecology. For her, the discussion only inflated her yearning to be a part of the change that is hoped to occur in regard to Black maternal health.
Raymond believes the education and awareness around the topic are what will be the catalyst to this movement. “Not everyone knows that this is an issue, especially if you aren’t going into healthcare or medicine,” Raymond told The Hilltop.
“It starts with being aware, even if you aren’t directly involved. Programs like Mothers of the Mecca and even the basketball players wearing the [Black maternal awareness shirts] at the [NCAA tournament] game. Those things are going to cause people to want to know what is going on, bringing more awareness to the issue,” she continued.
The men’s basketball team, coming off of the 2022-23 NCAA tournament and MEAC championship, realizes how much their success can be used to spread awareness. Ose Okojie, a freshman marketing major on the team, expressed the importance of having these discussions.
“Us being the Mecca, not only are we able to wake up the world with basketball, but also with what we’re doing off the court. We’re not standing idly by while Black women continue to be mistreated in health care. We’re standing with them,” Okojie said.
With the Howard population being 70 percent female, it is an issue that hits close to home for the university’s students and staff. Alana Stone, a sophomore nursing major, is one of the men’s basketball team managers. Stone was elated to hear the introduction of the team’s social justice project.
“This is a personal matter, not only because I’m a Black woman, but what the Black women in my life have experienced. This social justice project has really opened my eyes with these experiences in healthcare,” Stone explained.
The group shared their hopes that the awareness brings the community together to address and resolve the issue of Black maternal health.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee