Uzazi Village aims to curb birth complications among minority communities

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A group working to decrease premature births in minority communities has opened a new center on Troost Avenue to help at-risk pregnant moms.

Uzazi Village has an Afro-centered approach to improving infant mortality.

The infant death rate is twice as high among African Americans compared to whites, and complications from premature births is the biggest reason why.

At Uzazi Village's new center, low-income women take child birth classes and breastfeeding classes for free, with a goal of improving nutrition for both mother and baby to result in more healthy births.

Uzazi Village is best known for providing doulas for pregnant women, professional labor support people who help women navigate a successful pregnancy with home visits and breastfeeding support from start to finish.

"Our sister doula program is grant funded," said Hakima Payne, one of the non-profit's founders. "We have contracts with local insurance companies who have Medicaid contracts. The managed care organizations, we contract with them. They send high risk moms to us. We connect them with doulas and the insurance company pays."

Young mothers say having that support makes all the difference in having healthy children.

"For myself in the Hispanic community, you are judged when you’re breastfeeding," said Brenda Gonzalez, a young mother. "A lot of people see it as something wrong if you’re breastfeeding in public."

The group also helps minority women with cooking classes, teaching them how to prepare healthier whole food meals, with home-grown vegetables from their own community garden.

And they try to counter the stigma associated with breastfeeding in our culture.

Here, photos of clients breastfeeding their children adorn the walls nearly everywhere you turn.

Uzazi Village served about 120 women last year. The new location eventually will include a prenatal clinic to further the mission of making sure every family in the urban core has a health baby.