Reimagining Maternal and Child Health in the US
April 2017

Ideas Worth Spreading

Megan Canady, MSW, MSPH
Research Specialist, UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health

Sara Miller, MPH
Program Associate, Health Systems Transformation; AMCHP

What if…?”

This was the question that cultivated curiosity and inspired motivational discussion during the TEDxUNC session at the 2017 AMCHP conference. Based on the popular TED (technology, entertainment and design) Talks, TEDx events are independently organized conferences, usually organized in the form of short, powerful talks around a theme or community.

The AMCHP event premiered four of 10 previously-recorded talks from a TEDxUNC event focused on maternal and child health, and was followed by a panel discussion from Malika Redmond from Women Engaged, Sarah Verbiest from the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, Belinda Pettiford from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health, Chad Abresch from CityMatCH, and Vijaya Hogan from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The theme of the TEDx event, “What if… Reimagining Maternal and Child Health in the U.S.,” was chosen for the freedom it allowed to cross sectors and view issues of health through different lenses and perspectives. Maternal and child health is multidimensional and the chosen speakers reflected those many qualities from a new point of view. The talks covered themes including equity, race, leadership, intimacy, technology, space and “artivism.” Each of the four speakers proposed their own What if when thinking about maternal and child health in the U.S.

What if… Justice could only be realized if we listened to voices of black women?

Malika Redmond is co-founder and executive director of Women Engaged, a nonprofit that works to empower women and young adults to become effective leaders, key decisionmakers and effective agents for social change. She spoke of how the knowledge of black women can be a guide toward reproductive justice and social transformation.

What if…We were not afraid to lead for equity?

Gita Gulati-Partee founded and leads Open Source Leadership Strategies, Inc., a national consulting practice that promotes the work of social justice groups as both units and agents of structural change. Her talk pronounced that public health must be bolder in its circles of influence regarding racism and equity.

What if… We coupled our activism with our artistry?

Monica Simpson is the executive director for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. She discussed how she combined art with activism as a strategy for shifting the culture of maternal and child health.

What if… Running together remedied racism?

Rend Smith is the co-creator of Black Man Running, a public art and organizing project that addresses issues of race, public space, health, surveillance, culture and democracy. His talk highlighted that because health is politicized, running can be used as a political tool for positive change. Rend gave examples of how his organization has worked to reclaim space for marginalized people through community organizing.

TEDx is designed to help communities, organizations and individuals spark conversation and connection. This spark is something we need to foster within the field of MCH to address the many complex issues facing the systems and individuals we aim to serve. Hopefully, in the spirit of TEDx’s mission of highlighting ideas worth spreading,” we can reach far beyond the conference session and videos by leveraging the power of concepts highlighted in these talks to catalyze change within our work. Thus, the UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health launched the #WhatIfMCH social media dialogue and asked our audience to keep sharing their big ideas to advance health in the U.S.

The challenge we pose is to look outside the usual circles of MCH to learn more about racial disparities and the impact of health equity by listening to other voices. We challenge you to watch each of the videos individually or with your staff, share your #WhatIfMCH commentary, then wrestle with the same questions we posed to our panel:

  • What feelings and thoughts were stirred in you as you listened to these talks?
  • How can MCH leaders enhance our programs and approaches by listening to and learning from grassroots programs that address issues such as race, equity, activism and leadership?
  • How can we best engage with other groups (that might or might not fit the traditional mold of “MCH”) to listen to them, learn from their work and support them?
  • What effective strategies have you utilized to open doors to positive, productive conversations or genuine learning about the impact of racism on MCH outcomes?
  • How can we adopt a sense of genuine curiosity when learning from others?
  • What approaches have you employed in the workplace to elevate equity?
  • How can we better understand the needs of MCH populations in their communities?

We hope that you continue the conversation about reimagining maternal and child health and that we collectively take the actions needed to make the question of “What if…” a reality.

Join the conversation: #WhatifMCH. Follow us on Twitter @PCHHC, and like us on Facebook. Follow us on Instagram: @ShowYourLoveToday.