TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida Department of Health reports that maternal death rates for Black women were about 14 percent higher in the state than for White women.
In 2019, 59 percent of the 21 infant and fetal deaths in Leon and Wakulla Counties were Black babies compared to 30 percent of White babies.
These are some of the racial disparity gaps that the Sister Friends Tallahassee Birthing Project is trying to close so more African American mothers can have the help and support they need to have and raise healthy babies.
A community full of healthy mothers and babies. That's the vision of the Sister Friends Tallahassee Birthing Project. The project aims to improve birth outcomes for Black women through support and education.
"Black babies are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts and we are looking at ways to talk and work with our community to change the story," said Christal Szorcsik, Executive Director at the Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition.
To do that, Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition launched the Sister Friends Tallahassee Birthing Project. It's a free volunteer program that matches mentors, or Sister Friends, with expectant mothers, known as Little Sisters to guide them through the process.
"The goal of the project is to make sure every sister-friend has a little sister to support in order to change outcomes in order to impact maternal health rates and fetal death rates," said Kerry-Ann Rapheal, the Program Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for Sister Friends Tallahassee Birthing Project.
Dr. Amandala Shabaka-Haynes is a Birthing Project Leadership Team Member and former little sister. She said African-Americans have some of the highest birthing disparities in the nation when it comes to pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Something she said their economic backgrounds play a part in that.
"Those outcomes such as housing, finance, education that affect women and families ability to gain the services they need," said Dr. Shabaka-Haynes.
Dr. Shabaka-Haynes said her experience as a little sister when she was expecting was rooted in the joy of sisterhood.
"I gained a lot of friends, I gained another mother who I needed at the time when I was studying abroad. I didn't have my mother with me so having someone to step into that role was amazing," added Dr. Shabaka-Haynes.
A simple vision.
"We want to make sure our women are healthy so they deliver beautiful healthy babies," said Kerry-Ann Rapheal.
A clear goal.
"I want the sister-friend program to close the racial disparity gap," said Christal Szorcsik.
And the vital support of a community of sisters.
"There's someone there at the beginning, there's someone there, there is no end. 12 months is the supposed end, but that comradery and that friendship continues so I think that is the beautiful part," said Dr. Shabaka-Haynes.
The program is free for expectant African-American mothers of any age and sister-friend volunteers don't have to be mothers themselves.
For more information on how to become a Sister Friend or if you're an expectant mother or would like to donate to the project, click here.