Kristin Mejia-Green’s application for a $10,000 grant to help address Tennessee’s maternal mortality crisis was recently rejected by the Office of Minority Health Disparities Elimination, allegedly on the basis of an Instagram post found to be “offensive” and “lacking inclusivity” by an all- or mostly-white committee, according to an Instagram video Mejia-Green made recently.
A health crisis is raging in Tennessee on many levels, but particularly when it comes to maternal mortality in the black community. Even Republican representative Ryan Williams recently said Tennessee is “like a third world country” when it comes to maternal mortality, comparing us to Ecuador.
NEW: “TN is just above ECUADOR when it comes to MATERNAL MORTALITY… like a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY.”
GOP Rep. @RyanWilliamsTN tells the truth about TN’s health care crisis. #1 in medical bankruptcies & rural hospital closures per capita. #ExpandMedicaid @GovBillLee @CSexton25 pic.twitter.com/tOdMk3G2pm
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) November 20, 2019
To help address the issue among African-American mothers in Tennessee Kristin Mejia-Green applied for a $10,000 grant she planned to use to train and build “birth teams” around black mothers – “a birth doula, a post-partem doula, and a laceration counselor” – because, she says, “Every time we’re talking about post-partem and breastfeeding a little too late.”
Mejia-Green points to Tennessee’s own statistics and numbers, as well as ideas coming from the maternal and infant mortality report, to underscore the fact that her ideas and suggested trainings come right from the state’s own research.
A recent report showing “85% of maternal deaths in Tennessee were preventable” backs up what she’s saying.
It’s also worth noting many of the deaths happened because the mothers were cut off from health insurance sooner than they should have been, mainly because Tennessee is one of just a handful of states that tragically has not yet expanded Medicaid, and as a result loses over $1 BILLION each year.
Mejia-Green says she was surprised her grant was rejected, because she had spent months getting the application right, and she became even more devastated when she learned from a non-white employee of the Office of Minority Health Disparities Elimination that the rejection came after white decision-makers deemed too offensive a social media post depicting breastfeeding and talking about how black women used to help each other breastfeed during times of slavery.
Here’s the “offensive” post:
The caption reads:
Before we were stolen from our homeland and made to serve those incapable of serving themselves, we served each other. Before we were torn from our families to care for families that treated us as their pets, we raised each other’s babies. Breastfeeding wasn’t a one woman job. Toddlers belonged to the neighbors while mom recovered. The village made sure the village thrived. WHY DO WE NEED #BLACKBREASTFEEDINGWEEK?! Our magic is responsible for the health of the people in charge of the very systems created to dismantle our communities. We nursed the U.S. Now it’s time to nurse US! This week is about reclaiming our health and seeing our sisters in a light we don’t often see them in. Support matters. Representation matters. Our goal at Homeland Heart is to bring the village right to your living room. Need help?! Reach out. We got you, family ❤️ #blackbreastfeedingweek#homelandheart #ittakesavillage#supportchangeseverything#supportmatters#representationmatters #blackmoms
According to Mejia-Green, the person of color she contacted at the Office of Minority Health Disparities Elimination told her the post was found to be offensive by decision makers who “don’t look like us” – meaning are white.
In other words, despite the names of officials listed on the Office’s site, which appear to be mainly people of color, the actual decision-makers for Grants and money-related issues run through a white panel.
To confirm, we reached out to the Office of Minority Health Disparities to ask two questions:
1) Why was the post offensive?
2) Who makes the decisions?
This is the carefully-worded statement sent back to us by Elizabeth Hart, Associate Director of Communication at the TN Department of Health:
“The Tennessee Department of Health reviews grants throughout the year in several of our program areas, including the Office of Minority Health and Disparities Elimination. When evaluating applications from organizations requesting funding, we do conduct additional research on the organization with a focus on criteria including feasibility of the proposal, evidence base, the infrastructure of the organization and ability to implement the proposal and plans for sustainability of the proposed project. If an applicant’s proposal is not approved by the review committee, the applicant is encouraged to resubmit during the current or a future grant cycle.”
In other words, of the 2 questions we asked, they answered neither – nor did they choose to do so when we followed up.
As Kristin says:
“Oh the irony- the people making decision sat the Office of Minority Health Disparities Elimination, aren’t even minorities… there are other people in charge of who’s important enough to save.”
This is Elizabeth Hart’s contact info, if you’re interested in hollering at her: 615-741-3446 & Elizabeth.Hart@tn.gov
And to chip in and support Homeland Heart’s efforts to address maternal mortality among African-American mothers in Tennessee: HomelandHeartTN@Gmail.com & @HomelandHeartTn
Here’s their donate link.