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Jamaa Birth Village Expands Its Reach Through STL 360 Doulas Initiative

Brittany “Tru” Kellman (at left) is the founder of Ferguson-based Jamaa Birth Village. Kendra Copanas is the executive director of Generate Health, a St. Louis nonprofit focused on advancing racial equity in maternal and infant health outcomes.
St. Louis Public Radio & Generate Health
Brittany “Tru” Kellman (at left) is the founder of Ferguson-based Jamaa Birth Village. Kendra Copanas is the executive director of Generate Health, a St. Louis nonprofit focused on advancing racial equity in maternal and infant health outcomes.

Back in 2019, Charity Bean remembers thinking that the doula program she’d signed up for with Jamaa Birth Village would be much like a typical school or training experience. After about a decade working in health care and still in search of her niche, Bean kept her expectations realistic going in.

But the four-day program, led by Brittany “Tru” Kellman, wound up being a game-changer for Bean.

“We literally developed a bond and a sisterhood in the process of learning about becoming a doula and what birthwork was — everything from the history of birthwork, and in the Black community how it has changed, and how things have been stripped from us,” the 32-year-old Shiloh, Illinois, resident told St. Louis on the Air.

“And I was so inspired, because I was in such a — I’d almost want to say a depressed, dark place. … I felt like I [knew] what I want to do with my life, but I just couldn’t figure out what it was and how I can be more involved and truly help with birthwork. I felt like in my field, like with nursing school and things of that nature, ‘Why am I not succeeding? Why am I failing? Why am I not able to achieve these goals or be more involved?’ And once I became a doula and I went to her training ... it’s just changed my life.”

Bean, who has since started her own practice, Doula Bean Maternal Care, loves to spread the word about how empowering a doula can be for expectant mothers. And she’s far from alone in pushing for education and resources toward that end in the St. Louis region.

Kellman, wholaunched Ferguson-based Jamaa Birth Village in 2015, has continued to grow the organization in the years since. Just last summer, on Juneteenth, Kellman celebrated the opening of the 4,000-square-foot Jamaa Equal Access Midwifery Clinic across the street from the city’s public library. And in January, Kellman’s efforts got a big boost: a $1 million grant to train hundreds of doulas in an effort to reduce Missouri's maternal mortality rates and racial disparities.

Jamaa Birth Village is partnering on the STL 360 Doulas Initiative with Generate Health, a local nonprofit focused on advancing racial equity in pregnancy outcomes, family well-being and community health in the region.

On Tuesday’s show, host Sarah Fenske talked with Kellman and with Kendra Copanas, executive director of Generate Health, about their vision for this work going forward.

Kellman’s own traumatic experience many years ago as a teen mom — one who had little support and was ultimately made to undergo a C section for no medical reason — set her on the path toward creating Jamaa. She emphasized the importance of equal access to the kind of services her organization focuses on.

“All pregnant people, no matter their ZIP code, where they live, their education level or insurance type, they deserve and need to have access to every single service that can assist them in thriving in pregnancy and throughout postpartum and parenthood,” Kellman said. “And so we make all those services available at an affordable rate and also oftentimes through pro bono, scholarship-based care.”

What’s particularly exciting about the STL 360 Doulas Initiative, said Copanas, is the way it will extend Jamaa’s reach to serve thousands of people.

“A lot of times we get funding to start something new, and this funding … is actually allowing Jamaa Birth Village to scale their existing training model and provides the resources to do that,” she said.

Another partner in the effort, the STL Doulas of Color Collective, will play a key role helping newly trained doulas make the leap to a successful practice. And Copanas noted that an advisory group is also in the works for the STL 360 Doulas Initiative and is still recruiting members.

“We’re going to want to have a wide range of individuals involved in advising and supporting this work over the next three years,” Copanas said, “starting with pregnant and parenting families who have utilized doulas or would like ... to help guide how we make sure doulas are available in the future. We also want individuals who are in positions in hospitals — and health care institutions and public health who support this work — to join with us to help us advance this work in their organization.”

For more information or to consider getting involved, visit the Jamaa Birth Village website or email stl360doulas@jamaabirthvillage.org.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.