Christine Sanchez, firstname.lastname@example.org
George Floyd called for his mother as he died. Our appeals for racial justice must include protection for Black and Brown moms and their babies
(Black PR Wire) Witnessing the murder of yet another unarmed Black man — Minneapolis security guard George Floyd — at the hands of White police officers has shaken me to my core.
Another senseless death, in the midst of a global pandemic that is taking so many lives.
Four years ago, I visited St. Paul, Minnesota, to see the make-shift memorial to Philando Castile, erected days after his shooting death during a traffic stop in July 2016. I remember thinking then that maybe America witnessing a Black man being killed live on social media, in front of his girlfriend and her child, would be enough to ignite change.
Sadly, it did not. Since then, many more Black men and women have died due to police violence. This includes, within months of each other, the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment, and more.
George Floyd’s exasperated last words, calling out for his deceased mom, were especially agonizing to hear. For me, hearing these words in the final moments of his life was one of the most painful aspects of his death.
I have two teenage daughters. Being a mom has granted me unspeakable joy. But I also carry the daily burden of worry for my children’s safety and well-being. So, hearing a man’s plea for his Momma in his last moments created a pain in me like none other. I imagined if he had been my own child, how it would have affected me to hear his cry for help while dying at the hands of police officers sworn to serve and protect.
A dangerous nation for moms and babies
The same racist systems, attitudes and practices that led to the death of George Floyd lead to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Black and Brown moms and babies each year.
I serve as president and CEO of March of Dimes, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to fighting for the health of moms and babies. My team and I work hard to improve health outcomes for women before and during pregnancy, and for new moms and their newborns. We focus on reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, as well as premature birth and infant mortality.
The urgency of this work is immense. The U.S. is considered one of the most dangerous developed nations in the world in which to give birth. And just as racism underpins police brutality, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, it also lies at the root of our maternal and infant health disparities.
Black women are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy and childbirth than are White women. Black babies are more than twice as likely as White babies to die before their first birthdays.
It will not be possible for us to change these outcomes — and save thousands of lives — unless and until we address the inequities that exist in communities of color.
Confronting hard truths
The first step is to boldly address systemic and structural racism in healthcare. That means going beyond saying it exists. We have to confront the hard truths and work actively to reform the systems that have been hurdles for Black communities for generations.
Let’s start by expanding health coverage — not because it’s politically expedient, but because it’s proven to reduce maternal and infant mortality. We also have to change the attitudes and deeply embedded unconscious bias that often lead to Black and Brown women receiving inadequate care.
And we must affirm values that have not been accepted in this country regarding access to healthcare since the first Africans arrived on these shores. Never in the history of this country has there been adequate healthcare extended to persons of color — certainly not to slaves nor any of their descendants. We are the only industrialized country that systemically excludes people from access to affordable healthcare.
Nearly every day, I hear the cries of so many moms and babies who want the basic right to good health. Who feel victimized by a healthcare system that prevents them from getting the same care others enjoy.
These voices are crying out for change and help — much like George Floyd did last week. Though the road is long and oftentimes rocky, I am comforted by my faith, the love of my family and my passion to fight for all the men, women and babies who simply want to breathe.
By Stacey D. Stewart
President and CEO, March of Dimes