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AMP: Grassroots²

 

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Toni Hill of Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project

What do you do? Founder and Executive Director of Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project. I work with women on birth equity. We educate our moms by giving informational support. They learn how to become more empowered and how to make the best decisions for their families. We share resources on everything from car seat safety to childbirth preparation. Once they complete their class series, the moms receive goods to support their childbirth and child rearing thanks to donors and supporters.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? High cortisol levels don’t help pregnancy or the baby. We are thinking epigenetically and providing birthing and child rearing support so our community can have a better future. I’m proud of our high energy and impact in the community. Our breastfeeding initiation rate – when we had paid staff – was 98 percent. Our numbers now are a little lower – we’re at 92% with only three of us volunteering. It helps me to know at the end of the year, this work has been worth it. These families got support because we were there for them.

What moment motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? When I started, people would ask, what’s a doula? I found a big disparity between Black and white women in birth outcomes. In starting our program, I learned very quickly it was hard to find women to volunteer at the capacity we need. I would have 20 pregnant women come in looking for support and only one volunteer. I found HealthConnect One that offers support and services to train women in the community to do the work and share it. We had three doulas and three breastfeeding peer counselors.

How has your work been different over the past year? We have lost funding which means right now we are all volunteers – nobody gets paid anything and some folks had to move on. We are still doing the work, but we have to be selective about who we take as doula clients since we have limited capacity. A homeless 19-year-old woman I’m supporting now, she receives our doula support given her tough circumstances. We also still have breastfeeding peer counselors who are volunteering. Home visits are limited because of resources. We continue to hold monthly meetings to provide a similar level of regular support in a group setting, but it’s tough without money for staff and resources.

Babette Cromartie of Youth Organizing Institute

What do you do? I work in communications and development for Youth Organizing Institute (YOI). We are working toward safer schools for LGBT students of color, disabled youth, and immigrant youth. We carry out trainings, workshops, and summer camps for youth – young people learn about the movement, organizing, and how to tackle injustice in schools.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? I was one of the participants for our summer freedom schools. I got into this work through educational justice. I was in middle school and my sister was in high school and she was organizing with By Any Means Necessary in Detroit – I attended rallies and protests with her when I was 10. After that I got into YOI programs. Being in the program, I was able to reignite the passion for me to get involved with the schools. I had been homeschooled – I left school because it was such a frustrating environment. I was an A student but didn’t feel safe there, didn’t feel it was a place for me to really learn.

What moment motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? In Durham/Raleigh County, we’re seeing lot of money going into having police officers in schools – SROs (school resource officers) with no additional trainings that cater to youth. There are lots of incidents in North Carolina of violence against students by these officers supposedly protecting us. We follow the Dignity in Schools campaign, Counselors Not Cops, and promote restorative justice programs and mental health professionals in schools as well as any other positive solution other than cops and suspensions. It does not make sense to turn young people back to the environment that had them act out in the first place. Restorative justice and lowering suspensions help make schools safe for everyone especially marginalized students.

How has your work been different over the past year? The threat to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) really hit all of us really hard. Not knowing what’s going to happen to the kids we work with, how to protect each other and keep each other safe. We’ve been working with groups who are already living in fear to really encourage people to know that we can protect each other and we will protect each other. With Trump and Betsy Devos, we see educational bills coming that will erase protections for trans students and many others. We’ve had to develop rapid response programming. To put in place for everything that’s going to come down the line. Going to hit everybody all at once.