Artists, Community, Envisioning Justice, Featured, Interviews

Black Birth Matters at #LetUsBreathe Collective

The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side.

May each of our beginnings be honored, as they did not begin without deep struggle.

Keeping community is keeping us together. It’s unity. The #LetUsBreathe Collective’s partnership with Black Birth Matters represented a cross of a cultural exchange of knowledge, Black economic wealth, and education about the experiences of Black women in preparing for, experiencing, and learning about life before and after birth. Black Birth Matters is a “cultural campaign to uplift the life-giving power of Black women and people with wombs,” says Kristiana Rae Colón, the creator of Black Sex Matters and a poet, playwright, and abolitionist. With her comrade and partner, creative Malik Alim, she welcomed their new vessel of life, Baby Alim Colón, into the world at the inaugural Black Birth Matters community event. Focusing on Black birthwork, doula, and natural birth resources, the event highlighted why it is important to focus on Black maternal health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black mothers and womb carriers experience three to four times more pregnancy-related deaths than white mothers and womb carriers.

The celebration featured stories told from across the African diaspora, from souls that opened up themselves for the many women, children, and families present. It was an unforgettable creation.

Miranda Goosby: What does Black Birth Matters mean to you?

Kristiana Rae Colón: The concept for Black Birth Matters was born out of my Black Sex Matters campaign & event series, which uplifts individual sovereignty over the Black body as a source of pleasure, joy, and creation. Black Sex Matters intends to contest the capitalist and colonial violence inflicted on Black bodies by insisting that our physical beings are not made to be sites of trauma or exploited labor. Black Sex Matters challenges the oppressive notions of shame attached to joyful expressions of sensuality and claims that integrating our sensual beings into our social justice and other work gives us full access to our creative power.

When I became pregnant, it was important to me that I approach motherhood from the full power of my cultural production, organizing, and creative work. I joked that I would brand my baby shower Black Birth Matters, and before the joke could land in the air I had the vision for an extension of Black Sex Matters that focused on birthwork instead of or alongside erotica, an event series and campaign that completed the continuum. As I began to educate myself in preparation for a natural birth, I learned so much about the racial disparities in maternity care, and the necessity to create a container for resources and dialogue became even more imperative to me. I began to see Black birthwork as the first frontier of a movement for Black life. While it’s easy to focus on the ways police and other state violence target Black and brown lives, we are only just starting to have national awareness around the ways Black mortality from hospital complications during pregnancy and childbirth are their own form of genocide. Midwifery and birthing care has been criminalized and commodified in ways that strips Black and brown birthing people from their ancient cultural knowledge and expertise. I wanted to use my own pregnancy as an opportunity to amplify birthwork education, as well as celebrate the various experiences of mothers and people with wombs. The event follows a similar format to Black Sex Matters, showcasing storytelling, spoken word, and music that uplifts stories of birth, abortion, miscarriage, and motherhood, alongside teach-ins on birthwork and reproductive justice. Like Black Sex Matters, Black Birth Matters also offers body painting, live painting, a live DJ, sensual dance performances, and healing arts.

MG: How would you like for this work to continue?

KC: The work of Black Birth Matters will continue in the form of a partial scholarship for doula care for a mama in need from the funds raised at the event. Once I have this baby and more capacity to produce, I hope to continue the event series as community baby showers for other Black mamas-to-be!

MG: Do you view birthing Black children as a revolutionary act?

KC: I view Black existence and survival as a revolutionary act. Whenever we reclaim our cultural knowledge and practices for our continued surviving, existing, and thriving, we are shaping a more joyful Black future, and that is one of my visions for revolution.

Featured Image: Kristiana Rae Colón posing in a warm teal cloth with her soon-to-be newborn on a Chicago winter day. Photo courtesy of Kristiana Rae Colón.

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Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 2.52.43 PMMiranda Goosby is a 23-year-old creative from the DMV. She believes in authenticity and expressing one’s truth because you can’t allow someone else to tell your story. In the words of one of her favorite writers, Audre Lorde, “your silence will not save you.” After reading that, she was inspired to write about pieces that express the times we live in and the hard truths that set us free. Miranda is involved with community organizing and also enjoys creating moments through dinner gatherings and think tanks between other writers like herself. She feels that her writing allows one to tap into her mind and the minds of other young, like-minded Black people. Miranda believes in the community coming together creating change through using their collective voice. Miranda is also a Writer-in-Residence at The Breathing Room as part of Sixty’s Envisioning Justice Residency. She hopes to bring a warm energy, an open mind and a strong work ethic.