Today Not Tomorrow Family Resource Center collaborators Jeanne
Erickson (l-r), Betty Banks, Tia Murray, Hershey Barnett-Bridges and
The TNT Family Resource Center Is
Open for Business
Due to funding and other considerations, that collaborative broke up and many of the partners went their separate ways. But that didn’t mean
that the spirit and goals of Harambee died with it.
Betty Banks, the former director of the Family Enhancement component, has always been looking for a way to replicate key elements of that
collaboration and found her chance with some seed money and an available room at the East Madison Community Center. Through Today Not
Tomorrow, Banks and collaborators from the African American Breastfeeding Alliance of Dane County, Harambee Village Doulas, Neighborhood
Connectors and Integrative Fitness along with partners from the Access Community Health, East Madison Neighborhood Center, Centering
Pregnancy and the Meadowood Health Partnership will be fully launching the TNT Family Resource Center.
“Family resource centers are important for information, education, learning about resources that are in the community and also for parents to
build their own networks of support and be able to share what they know about parenting with other parents, build on the skills that they
already have and acquire new ones,” Banks said.
While the TNT Family Resource Center is a smaller room than was at the Villager Mall, it still has some of the same vital ingredients that
empowered young African American women to promote the physical and mental development of their children. From outreach to the provision
of services to referrals, the TNY center will have — or will have partnerships with — all of the components that parents need during pregnancy
and those early childhood years.
How do the collaborators get women into the center? Well, that’s what Neighborhood Connectors is all about.
“Neighborhood Connectors was developed from me being a Meadowood community ambassador,” said Sheray Wallace who founded
Neighborhood Connectors. “WCCF gave me this great opportunity and that’s how I started connecting with families and finding out certain
needs and what they didn’t have and the available resources that they weren’t aware of. That’s how my idea of bringing Neighborhood
Connectors into play. Being a part of the resource center will allow me to be able to understand and help people who don’t have the necessary
information they need. It will build my skills up with communicating with other families outside of the community that I live in. And it will make
Madison a stronger city if we are able to build up little pockets of the community.”
And once a pregnant mom comes into the center, she can receive immediate support through the Harambee Village Doulas.
“Doulas work with women very early on, while they are pregnant,” said Harambee Village Doulas’ Tia Murray. “And what we know is that the
pregnancy period is such a critical period for parenting as well as breastfeeding. And it really lays the foundation for that parent to be able to
bond with their baby, to support their baby, to be available emotionally for their baby. And there is a lot of research that has come out that has
demonstrated that doulas can act as a secure base for parents. Women with doulas have better birth outcomes and better breastfeeding
outcomes and better parenting outcomes.”
And once the baby is born, one of the most important things to introduce the new mother to is breastfeeding. And while breastfeeding has
always been, with the advent of commercials, puritan social norms, unsupportive public places and the rush to get things done in a hurry,
breastfeeding has not played an integral role in the African American community that has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in spite of the child
and maternal health benefits.
“One of the things that I co-founded was the African American Breastfeeding Alliance of Dane County,” said Hershey Barnett-Bridges, who
recently retired after serving in the public health department as a nurse. “It is since 2003 that we have actually been up and running. This is our
14th year of working. The purpose of this group was to help educate the community as a whole, but especially African American mothers about
breastfeeding and the importance of breastfeeding. One of the things that I have a concern about and have for quite some time, is the disparity
in health in regards to African Americans tend to have the highest mortality rate, the highest morbidity rate. And what we are trying to do is
figure out how do we improve health throughout their lives. One of the best ways is to start them off with breastfeeding. But when you look at
the statistical information, it shows that African Americans are less likely to breastfeed their babies for any real length of time. We know that
breastfeeding for a great length of time — we’re not talking just for two weeks although any length of time is important — the longer you
breastfeed, the more health benefits come to the mother as well as to the baby for the rest of their lives. When we say the rest of their lives,
people need to know that breastfeeding actually improves your health throughout your life. We’re talking about decreasing diabetes. We’re
talking about reducing the chances of certain cancers. We’re talking about growth and development. We’re talking about speech and language.
We’re talking about brain development. The health benefits go on and on and on. When we tell people about it, we need this particular
population to not only buy into it, but the community as a whole also needs to buy in. This group definitely needs to breastfeed because of the
benefits that we know it can do.”
Barnett-Bridges feels that breastfeeding initiatives must be culturally-relevant.
“One of the things that I would like people to realize is that for the African American population — and I’m believing this for a lot of the other
communities of color — have life that is specific to their communities,” Barnett-Bridges said. “Let us work with the communities, with each of
these groups, to actually figure out how it would work best to improve their health. And they will buy into it. But we have been unsuccessful in
understanding that they have to buy into this information. The rest of the community needs to support them buying in to this health initiative. In
other countries, as I study more and more about breastfeeding, they take people from the community, teach them about what they want to know
in regards to health and they take them back into the community to actually provide education and support and guidance and resources to that
community. I don’t think we do that here. We have not done that and if we keep doing this the way that we have been doing it, it’s not going to
work. Not until the community itself buys in, will it work.”
But then the larger community also has to be supportive of women breastfeeding in public places and other places. Oftentimes, mothers are
made to feel self-conscious while breastfeeding in a public place — which is protected by law — due to attitudes of the people around the baby
and child. According to Banks, it is the mainstream culture that fosters those attitudes.
“Part of the problem is the sexualization of breasts,” Banks emphasized. “In this country, people have become so involved in how they look at
breasts, that seeing a woman breastfeeding a baby becomes negative to them and becomes sexualized.”
“If you are in a restaurant and you choose to feed your baby, no one can come up to you and say, ‘Don’t feed the baby or you need to get out of
here,’” Barnett-Bridges added. “There is a fine. I give people a little card that tells you that information. I tell them, ‘If someone says something
to you, show them the card. And tell them that they can drop the $100-$200 fine on you right now. Don’t worry about going to court.’”
Next issue: Brain development and exercise
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Back in the early to mid-1990s into the 200s, a health collaboration,
South Madison Family & Health Center – Harambee located in the
Villager Mall, really had it going on in terms of offering comprehensive
health and family services to the African American and Latino
communities. The Family Enhancement Family Resource Center, Head
Start, the Madison Public Library, Access Community Health and other
partners created a one-stop shop for early childhood education and
And perhaps it was no coincidence that for a period of time in the early
2000s, the gap in infant mortality rates between African Americans
and Euro-Americans virtually disappeared. While Public Health couldn’
t scientifically prove how the gap disappeared, many within the
collaboration felt that their efforts were primarily responsible.