Who are the Hidden Figures in the Black Birth World?

Published February 1, 2017 under Blog

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Tikvah Wadley

Hidden Figures is a movie that portrays women of color who worked at NASA with very important roles — yet were not acknowledged for their wisdom or their contributions to NASA’s great work.

At HealthConnect One, we believe that every community has its own leaders, who know the community’s language and hold solutions for the community’s challenges. A majority of the time, these leaders are not recognized for the important roles they play or for their contributions to the world of birth. I think of these leaders as Hidden Figures in the community and we would like to acknowledge them during Black History Month.

For example, if you read the questions below and someone comes to your mind, feel free to acknowledge!Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson) was responsible for the calculations for an astronaut’s takeoff and landing but she was unable to use the restroom where her colleagues were and was forced to go to another building which was much further away.

  • Has there ever been a time you supported a mother and she wanted to deliver at a certain hospital but she wasn’t able to do so?
  • What did you do about it?
  • Were you able to turn this around for the mother? Was anyone?
  • Was there ever a time you were supporting a mother who wanted certain services but was unable to receive them because she had public insurance?
  • What did you do about it?
  • Were you able to turn this around for the mother? Was anyone?

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) was performing the job of a supervisor but she wasn’t recognized as a supervisor — she wasn’t “professional enough.”

  • Breastfeeding Peer Counselors support mothers in their communities and help them with the very first hours of life when the baby comes — and in some cases, with the very first latch. However, they are not seen as “professional enough” to be recognized as vital to their community. Does this make you think of anyone?
  • Can you remember a time when you helped a mother continue to breastfeed when she wanted to give up? How did you turn her negative into a positive?
  • Can you remember a time when you were disrespected and/or devalued as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor? How did this make you feel? How did you turn this negative situation into a positive?

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) went before a judge to present her case concerning racial equity and became NASA’s first black woman engineer.

  • What were you the first of?
  • Breastfeeding?
  • Going to college and graduating – were you the first in your family?
  • Were you the first to give birth in your family or community without interventions? Were you the first to become a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor or Community-Based Doula in your community, although it was unheard of?
  • Do you know someone who was the first to do any of these things?

Tikvah Wadley, AAS, CD(DONA), BDT (DONA), is a Certified Doula and Birth Doula Trainer through DONA, and serves as Project Coordinator for HealthConnect One. She has worked in the community for nearly 20 years and believes in empowering women in today’s society.

For Black History Month, we’re offering a platform for Black allies, partners and friends to share about the hidden figures in your communities. Have someone you want to recognize? Please share!

We will publish responses right here on February 28th. Thank you.

“History is the sum total of what all of us do on a daily basis,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book, “Hidden Figures,” in a Smithsonian article last Fall.

“We think of capital “H” history as being these huge figures — George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King.” Even so, she explains, “you go to bed at night, you wake up the next morning, and then yesterday is history. These small actions in some ways are more important or certainly as important as the individual actions by these towering figures.”

~ Source: The True Story of “Hidden Figures,” the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Maya Wei-Haas

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