This Saturday, Sept. 25, the second “In Her Voice” community music event will highlight local and national women representing genres of hip hop, spoken word, and dance. This year’s festival celebrates triumphs because despite 2020 being a tumultuous time, infant mortality numbers fell to a record low, down 18% from 2015-2019’s statistics locally. And among Black births, the number of mortalities decreased 33 percent. According to Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith, director of community strategies at Cradle Cincinnati, it’s the lowest number recorded in Hamilton County’s history since 1994.
September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and a year before Cradle Cincinnati founded in 2012 as one of Cincinnati Children’s initiatives to eradicate pre-term births and infant mortalities, Hamilton County had the nation’s second highest number of infant deaths. Despite a slight decrease across populations, in the Black community, infant mortality continued to be an epidemic.
“That is exactly why we exist as race and gender strategies,” Shockley-Smith says. “I’m trying to shift the narrative, as Black women, as leaders.”
Over the last five years, Cradle Cincinnati (along with an ever-growing list of health providers and civic partners across industries) strategized solutions to improve Black maternal and infant health by looking for feedback beyond national data that supports why disparities were overwhelmingly disproportionate among Black mothers.
“A first step was, let’s go ask Black women, ‘What is the issue?’” Shockley-Smith notes. “Because what we know is that to solve a problem that Black women are having, asking Black women is essential. What they said was, ‘I don’t feel heard, seen, or valued.’”
She also points out that issues of implicit bias in health care aren’t unique to a specific socio-economic class or education level. Some of the resulting feedback that came from being intentional about approaching Black women became the impetus for Queens Village, a community for Black women to provide and receive support outside of the daily stressors of career and caregiving. In 2020 especially, this meant finding basic needs in trusted spaces, such as doula care as a birthing alternative to hospitals, creative workshops for teens online, community movie nights, counseling, drive-through baby showers, and daily check-ins on social media.
All of this community building is the backdrop for “In Her Voice,” Queens Village’s partnership with the Underworld Jazz Festival, which held its first event in 2019. Taking place at the Ziegler Park Great Lawn, the festival will be headlined by national recording artists Sa-Roc and Nitty Scott, and feature local artists like Jazmyn Alexis, Q-Kidz, Nasty Nati Brass Band, MC Jori An, DJ Apryl Reign, and Siri Imani.
Imani, a Madisonville native and co-founder of Triiibe Foundation LLC, is respected throughout the Queen City for her philanthropic style of “artivism” (art and activism). In 2020, she released her first solo, Duality.
When asked how Black women can be better supported, Imani offers one word: “Listening.”
“Black women have never had an issue saying with what we need and what bothers us,” she adds. “I just don’t think many people listen and really listen with intent on helping versus the intent on calling you angry.”
As the daughter of Jennie Wright (local spoken word entertainer “Black Budd’afly”), Imani remembers growing up watching her mother and her poet friends enacting change in the community. Today, Triiibe Foundation advocates through programs like Potluck for the People in Piatt Park, and this spring, one of their projects was planting a community garden on Garden Street in the West End.
“Early on, I saw the impact that you can make if you care, for one, and then if people trust you to handle things,” she says. “I think that kind of was already laid for me by my mom. And growing up in a community that trusts me, knows me, has watched me grow up from a very young age, it’s easier to talk to everybody. It’s easy to get everybody on one accord, and then move people when it’s time. That has inspired me over the years to keep going.”