In early April, AMCHP Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Terrance E. Moore, interviewed Belinda Pettiford so we could all learn more about her professional and personal life. Belinda had many interesting insights.
A Fun Fact
Many people assume that Belinda has children because she loves children and often has a child in tow. But Belinda is not a mom. She is an involved aunt, great aunt, and great-great aunt…to 33! For many years, she carried car seats to transport her young relatives to activities.
Life Experiences that Shaped Her Personal and Professional Choices
Belinda grew up in a big, blended family of eight children. Both parents were previously divorced. Being part of a big family shaped her love of family. Whenever Belinda has downtime, she tries to get her family together. Sometimes for no reason than to have quality time with them.
Her love of family shaped her professional choices. She began her public health career as a community health educator for a small rural local health department. Her supervisor encouraged her to grow, be creative, and take reasonable risks engaging with the community. Early on, she developed partnerships with beauticians and barbers to understand how to craft health messages. She also worked with ministries of health programs and faith-based leaders to learn more about the communities. Her failures and successes shaped her professionally. “Listening to the voices of those with lived experiences was critical as well as engaging with the community every step of the way.”
Childhood Role Model
Hands down, Belinda’s mother is her role model. She admires her mom’s determination and strong will. Her mother insisted that Belinda’s older sisters go to integrated schools in the early days of public-school integration. Her mother had an invisible presence at the school as if protecting her children behind the scenes. She led voter registration drives. Belinda observed her mom carrying voter registration forms in her car so she could help people register to vote at every opportunity. “Whenever I think about social causes and public health, I think of my mom.”
Most Proud Achievements as AMCHP’s President
5-Year Strategic Plan
Belinda is proud of the AMCHP leadership team and staff, especially the work that went into developing and approving the strategic plan through 2027, AMCHP Future 2027. The collaboration between the AMCHP leadership team and staff, AMCHP members, and partners was foundational to what the Board could achieve. “We took a step-by-step approach to drafting the plan and soliciting input and feedback from staff, members, partners, and other Board members. We carefully thought through every part of the strategic plan.”
Advocating for Reproductive Health
AMCHP continues to deliver on its public health responsibility to advocate on behalf of women’s reproductive health rights, which are continually threatened. AMCHP stood behind official statements advocating for women’s health and the right to have children if and when women choose to and ensuring they can raise their children in safe and nurturing environments. “I can’t say enough about all the Board members, comprised of volunteers across the country who dedicate their time and services to support AMCHP.”
Most Pressing Priorities for MCH Stakeholders and AMCHP
The MCH field operates in public health, and we managed a pandemic no one expected. Despite what’s going on in the environment or the MCH topic, health disparities come into play. Belinda believes we need to focus most on achieving health equity and eliminating disparities. Black Maternal Health Week in April is a chance to highlight the atrocious disparities in both Black maternal health outcomes and infant mortality outcomes. We also must focus on children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) who experience disparities in access to care, depending on where they live.
“Beyond the work we do within the walls of clinics, we must connect our work to the [underlying] social determinants of health (e.g., transportation, housing, and system biases) and [think about how we can support advancement in these areas].”
Advice for New and Emerging MCH Professionals
Aspiring interns or fellows typically want to apply for positions at the highest level of an organization they can qualify for. Belinda advises against this. She feels that MCH professionals will be most successful if they invest in doing community work first.
“We have to listen to people, including those with lived experience, in communities to understand their challenges, needs, resources, and assets.” It’s essential to obtain this grounding before developing programs and policies. After programs and policies are put into practice, we must continue to solicit community feedback on how well they address local needs.
Carving Out Time for Self-Care
Professionals acknowledge they are stretched thin. Belinda encourages her staff to resist any form of work while on vacation and tries to follow her own advice, though sometimes more successful than others. She uses calendar reminders to prompt her to walk and take time for herself. She also is part of a network of like-minded people who believe in work/life balance. They go on social outings and support each other online. “If you rely solely on yourself to create a healthy work/life balance, it’s easy to get lost.”
Recommendations for the Next Board President
Belinda advises the incoming AMCHP President, Lisa Asare, BA, MPH, to continue embracing the dedication of AMCHP board members across the country and staying connected to the AMCHP leadership team and staff. Belinda will be accessible as a sounding board. She praised Terrance Moore and the executive team for making the Board’s job easy. “AMCHP does the heavy lift. We provide feedback and guidance.”
Favorite Past-times… and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Belinda devours a variety of books. Often, she donates them later to a library or an individual. Time with family and friends is another treasured activity…simply relaxing or dining out. Sitting out in the yard with pecan and oak trees brings her joy, but she likes nature in small doses. Belinda lives with her mom, and they often hang out on their back porch.
The three guests Belinda would invite to a dinner party:
- Her maternal grandma, a woman of quiet strength. She had 8 children and lost 2 before they turned 18; most of her other children died before she did.
- Oprah Winfrey: Oprah’s life story is also one of perseverance, and Belinda admires how she devotes herself to empowering women, children, and families.
- Michelle Obama: Michelle’s latest book, The Light We Carry, which Belinda is reading, has piqued her interest in learning more about Michelle’s life.
Belinda Pettiford, MPH, was recently named as the new Chair for the Advisory Committee on Infant and Maternal Mortality (ACIMM) by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She served on this committee for four years before she became president of the AMCHP Board. Belinda has more than 30 years of experience in public health and serves as the Women, Infant, and Community Wellness Section Chief in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health. She oversees the state’s work in maternal health, reproductive health, preconception health, teen pregnancy prevention, sickle cell disease, and many other programs focused on equity in birth outcomes. Belinda is the 2020 recipient of the Ron Levine Public Health Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding public health leadership in North Carolina.