African American babies in Greater Cleveland are dying at significantly higher rates than the national average. A local organization wants to change those numbers.

CLEVELAND — The numbers are alarming.

“Infant mortality is a major issue here in Northeast Ohio, with Black babies dying in some communities up to seven times the rate of white babies,” stated Jazmin Long, President and CEO of Birthing Beautiful Communities.

A condition known as toxic stress is to blame, according to the non-profit BBC. The organization provides support to pregnant women at greatest risk of infant mortality. Toxic stress, they say, is the result of systemic racism and Black women’s voices not being heard in doctors’ offices. That’s why the BBC is there to help.

“Empowering clients and their families to feel as though they have, the option, they have choices that they can really, take their own medical care in their own hands,” Long said.

BBC trains doulas, a person to give emotional support advocate for the mother throughout the birthing journey. Transportation and other assistance are also available.

“Anything that can cause a mom stress. We want to be here to provide that support and help to alleviate that,” said Chantel Tolbert, Chief Advancement Officer for Birthing Beautiful Communities.

800 families are helped each year. But the BBC wants to do more. This fall, they hope to break ground on Cleveland’s only freestanding birth center.

“This is going to be a facility where we’re able to have all of our classes, all of our doula trainings, and we will actually have clients giving birth because it’s going to be a birth center on the first floor,” explained Long.

“We’ll also have space for nutrition classes, postpartum rooms, and exercise room. So that will serve as a space for our moms to come in, our doulas to come in and be able to just enjoy,” added Tolbert.

The location at East 65th Street and Chester Avenue serves a purpose. The Hough neighborhood is where the BBC got its start, as a pilot program. And the $15 million project will add to MidTown’s revival.

“Hough has been, has dealt with a lot of infant mortality in that community, and that’s the reason why we were founded in that very community,” said Tolbert. “And so we want to come back and be of service and support to those women.”

“This space is going to be a beacon of hope for the community just because of how beautiful it is,” remarked Long.

Ohio law allows hospital births or home births with a midwife present. The new center will give families another choice.

“We’re very intentional about what this space looks like and how we want people to feel when they enter this space,” said Tolbert. “And so we think people will be excited for this. This is something that is for Black women by Black women.”

The City of Cleveland is supporting the project with $1 million.

“So those are the dollars, the catalytic dollars to help us get started so that we can go out and show like, this is successful,” said Long “This is something that the community believes in.”

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott also awarded the organization a $2 million grant.

“And that is just such a blessing,” Long said. “And so we are hoping to use the additional million to further our organization’s endowment.”

Combined, the support is building a legacy, for the health of future generations. And for families whose voices are part of their own birthing experience.

“These are Black women who could be my mother, sisters, cousins who I want to insure, able to safely have a child, to be protected, to be valued, to feel empowered,” said Long.

The birthing center will also house Birthing Beautiful Communities offices and community space. And while it is run by Black women for Black women, any women in need of their services are welcome.

WKYC Mission Possible |  Jeff Reidel