University of South Florida


black pregnant woman at hospital

Celebrate the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week at the COPH

The USF College of Public Health (COPH) is part of global effort to eliminate Black maternal mortality with a week of events centered on the reproductive and birth justice movements. The initiative aims to amplify Black voices and experiences and foster dialogue for the health and well-being of Black mothers and birthing people.

Led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) is recognized each year from April 11-17 to bring attention and action in improving Black maternal health. It highlights how everyone can play a role in working to prevent pregnancy-related deaths and improving maternal health outcomes.

This year’s observance focuses on the theme, “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!”

women planning an event

The COPH’s BMHW committee at their workshop meeting on March 14. (Photo by Liz Bannon)

As the first initiative of the Community Hub at the COPH, the BMHW initiative is firmly rooted in community engagement and data-driven action. This collaborative space was intentionally and strategically created incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences across disciplines, age, gender, education level and geographic location (within Tampa Bay). 

According to Florida’s Bureaus of Community Health Assessment, preterm birth and low birth weight, which are both causes deemed to be largely preventable, remain leading causes of infant death disproportionately impacting Black infants. Further, in 2020 non-Hispanic Black mothers in Florida were nearly twice as likely to experience a severe obstetric event but were four times more likely to pass away due to pregnancy-related causes.

“In Florida, more than 70% of pregnancy-related deaths are determined to be preventable. So, as a Black woman, as a Black momma and as a member of the Black community, this week holds a special space in my heart,” said Dr. Marshara Fross, postdoctoral scholar at the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health and founder of the BMHW at the COPH. “Although I have had two traumatic birthing experiences of my own, you almost never hear me talk about my own experiences because I am always highlighting the data and experiences of others." 

"The history of slavery and segregation left an enduring legacy in this country. The generations that came before us fought to have their experiences and personhood acknowledged, celebrated, and respected in a manner similar to what this week embodies," Fross said. "It’s about my community, the people I love, the people who made me who I am today and the Black families and communities of the future who deserve to experience safe, respectful and high-quality maternity care."

Because the initiative is data driven, BMHW will center on the patient experience in the hospital labor and delivery environment. 

“Unfortunately, even when mom and baby both survive pregnancy and childbirth, traumatic birthing experiences and incompetent care, particularly in the hospital birth environment, are far too common among Black birthing people,” Fross said. “While working in these spaces as scholars and researchers, we hear these stories frequently but sometimes we also hear positive birth experiences as well! One of our primary goals for BMHW is to amplify and celebrate these stories and experiences of those in our community and across the spectrum. Amplifying these stories not only increases awareness but also provides tangible feedback on what is working and what is not working, in our own community, clinics and hospitals.”

Fross and the BMHW team said they are not only striving to share stories of Black birthing people in the community, but are thrilled to invite fathers, partners, health care providers, policymakers, and people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to join in as active participants. They hope to offer opportunities for attendees to engage in dialogue and learn about ways the community can mobilize to promote optimal birth outcomes for all. They want to provide actionable ways for sustainable community-engagement, even after BMHW has concluded.

“I am looking forward to community. There is proverb in our community which says, ‘If you want to go fast, then go by yourself. But if you want to go far, then go together’. As the creator and founder of the Black Maternal Health Week initiative, seeing this vision come to life has honestly been one of the most humbling experiences of my life," Fross said. "Although this process certainly was not without its challenges and fair share of adversity, seeing professionals, mothers, partners, and community members gather and join in this movement to create a community where we all can thrive, has been both extraordinary and inspiring. I cannot wait to see us truly unite as a community in effort to advance Black Maternal Health and save Black mommas and babies.”

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Check out the college’s offerings and join the movement.

For more information or questions, please contact Dr. Marshara Fross,

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