Submitted by Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative
We’d like to thank the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Milwaukee Community Journal, Wisconsin’s largest circulated African American newspaper, for highlighting the need for community-wide support to address the black-white infant mortality gap through the Empty Cradles series.
The coverage has helped to raise awareness broadly through the city of Milwaukee about our disgraceful distinction of having one of the worst racial disparities in infant mortality in the nation.
We would also like to thank the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health for their leadership on this issue and their financial support of the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF).
Although there have been efforts over the course of many years, working in this regard locally, it is extremely invigorating to have increased financial and human resources on a local level, active engagement of the most impacted people and new stakeholders involved in ridding our city of this epidemic. Milwaukee is one of four communities in southeastern Wisconsin to receive a planning grant from WPP to combat this issue.
The Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (Milwaukee LIHF) Collaborative’ s mission is to reduce stress and improve healthy birth outcomes for African-American families in Milwaukee.
This community-driven effort has aggressively tackled this issue over the past 18 months and has been coordinated by the Planning Council. This process is offering hope that the lives of more African American infants will be averted from untimely death.
More than 140 diverse stakeholders have committed efforts to build buy-in across all sectors.
Their frequent meetings have focused on documenting the problem, learning about potential solutions, contributing knowledge from different life experiences and disciplines, and recommending a community action plan.
This plan sets priorities that are backed by promising practices with local relevancies to have a positive impact on birth outcomes. The priorities are:
1) increasing access to medical care over the lifespan for African American families,
2) increasing the role of fathers in African American families and
3) reducing poverty among African American families. These priorities were vetted by our African American Task Force and supported by specific strategies that were recommended by community and academic experts. The Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative has been able to mobilize constituents from different backgrounds and perspectives, and gained their commitment, active engagement and indication of intentions to address infant mortality disparities in a coordinated manner. Solid relationships have been built and serve as the foundation for our efforts to work in partnership to accomplish a common goal.
Our efforts have not focused on gaining media headlines as we have focused on the tough work of developing solutions to save lives of the most vulnerable amongst us, our infants. For respectful community engagement, we understand the necessity of building the trust within the impacted community, which takes time.
Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative partners have been at the table working through the differences that have historically kept our communities apart. We must understand that real community engagement, based on proven theories, demands outreach to the impacted community, consulting with the community, involving the community in the process, truly collaborating and sharing power.
It is essential that the impacted community believes they are involved in, and crucial to the success of, the process and can influence the solutions. Building capacity to improve health involves the development of sustainable skills, resources, and organizational structures.
The Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative encourages the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to continue to shine a light on the injustices of the City’s black-white infant mortality gap and asks that everyone take a honest look at the role that racism and economics play in this disparity as well as putting consistent and strong commitments toward this work.
The implementation phase for the WPP grants will begin in the spring of 2012 and we will continue working to influence and support any interventions funded by this Program. After all, to see real improvement in the African American infant mortality disparity, the cornerstone of any effort must involve the community and collaborate with its members.
Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative has established an ambitious goal – eliminating the black-white infant mortality gap in Milwaukee by 2020- because we believe the lives lost and those yet to come deserve our utmost efforts to make Milwaukee a community that is welcoming to all infants. Social, cultural, physical, and economic foundations are important factors in the overall health of the community.
Thus, we cannot afford to look at infant mortality with narrow lenses and expect improvements. Our conversations are deep and broad; but large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, not isolated interventions of individual organizations. The work of real community engagement may be hard and time consuming, but it is ESSENTIAL!