LyVesha Franklin is the type of woman who jumps in and makes things happen. You may not know her by name, but Franklin’s fingerprints are all over some major initiatives to support people who are underserved, community newcomers and the Black community in Monterey County. As part of Building Healthy Communities, Franklin helped pilot the VIDA community health worker program, which now boasts millions of dollars in funding, supports hundreds of jobs and provides person-to-person health information. She is also part of the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers and was a founding member of the Seaside Covid Action Team.
“I helped kickstart and jumpstart a lot of events with Seaside Covid Action Team and did a lot of connecting and bringing people in… and then on to the next project,” Franklin says. “That’s kind of what I do.”
Indeed, Franklin is already diving into her next project: Kweens’ Kounsel, a community of birthing resources and support for and by Black people in Monterey County. As a single mother to four children, this project is very personal – Franklin wanted doula support during her births but found it out of reach. Being a Black childbirth educator in a country where the maternal mortality rate for Black women is 2.6 times that of white women (per U.S. Centers for Disease Control data) adds to Franklin’s inspiration – “the difference in being Black and surviving birth is support,” she says.
Kweens’ Kounsel began with an email Franklin sent to the Birth Network of Monterey County in January. She outlined her vision for creating a network specifically for Black birthing, and within minutes received a reply. “It made eminent sense for us to support them,” Gail Root, president of the Birth Network, says. “It was a gift for us to have LyVesha reach out to us.” The Birth Network now serves as Kweens’ Kounsel’s fiscal sponsor.
Both Franklin and Root are forthright about the fact that while the Birth Network has been providing birthing support and resources to families in Monterey County since 2007, the nonprofit has not focused much on bridging cultural or racial divides, and families served have been predominantly white. Nor is there another similar organization specifically for Black families – “In my six years of being active in the community, I have not seen a space for Black women in [the birthing] area at all,” Franklin says. “Black women are abused a lot, in a lot of facets of life. And we’re so abused that we pick and choose our battles. So a lot of things are overlooked and not brought to the surface because it’s like, ‘I can’t fuss about this when I need this or this or this.’ We only have so much energy, and so much focus.”
Franklin has her sights set on creating that space and bringing these issues to the surface. That means curating a network of Black birthing support providers. It also means educating Black women and families about the value educators and doulas can provide.
“That’s one of the key things right now, is to educate the community on the benefits of birth support and why it’s important, especially for Black women considering we’re on the high end of the maternal mortality rate due to institutional racism,” Franklin says. “It has been proven that the majority of the cases [of maternal deaths] could have been prevented if the Black women were just listened to.”
This education takes the form of community conversations. Kweens’ Kounsel has hosted two thus far, and is gearing up to host another on June 3 with teacher and motivational speaker Tamisha Smith, who will speak about self-awareness and self-care and lead a closing yoga session.
“We want to be able to celebrate births – Black women giving birth in a culturally safe and supported environment,” Franklin says. “Birth sets the tone for life.”
KWEENS’ KOUNSEL COMMUNITY CONVERSATION ABOUT BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH 2:30-5:30pm Saturday, June 3. Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. Free; donations welcome. birthnetworkofmonterey.com/african-american
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