The Maternal and Child Health Equity Conference grew out of the combined efforts of several maternal child health stakeholders including women impacted by black infant mortality who were involved in planning the 2014 Preconception Health Conference and the 2015 Community Health Forum/Maternal Child Health Conference- Achieving Maternal and Child Health Equity.

The 2014 Preconception Health Conference was planned as a result of data gleaned through the Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) project, state and local data collection, and community-engaged efforts. The planning team included Capital Area Healthy Start, Children’s Medical Services, Community Advocates, Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Institute of Public Health, Florida Department of Health-Leon, Florida State University College of Medicine, Gadsden County Healthy Start Coalition, Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council, Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center- Women’s Pavilion, and Whole Child Leon. The planning partners identified poor preconception health and social determinants of health as contributing factors to infant mortality and prematurity. There were several key sponsors. The conference was hosted at Florida State University College of Medicine.

The 2015 conference was the culmination of a community-based participatory research project (CPBR) where the Co-PI, Miaisha Mitchell (Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council) and Joedrecka S. Brown Speights worked with a community advisory board (D.K. Richardson, Xan Nowakowski, Jessica De Leon, Kimberly Thomas, Joy Anderson, Kristy Goldwire, Cynthia Coaxum,  J.L. Brown, Ivy Simpson, Brianna Dunlap, Kiersten Dawson, Stephanie Rolon-Rodriguez, Tavia Smith, Penny Ralston, Jamie Edwards Combs) to complete a focus group project to glean the perception of African American women regarding Black Infant Mortality in Leon and Gadsden Counties. The women shared their ideas about the causes of black infant mortality and solutions.

Several themes arose, summarized into 6 categories that impacted women across several domains in life. Several things including discrimination, socioeconomic factors, and being female crossed all levels of impact on the individual, her family, community, and at the societal level. In keeping with the community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, a dissemination forum (evening reception, and morning session the next day) was held with participants and a few other interested stakeholders in June 2014 to discuss the study findings and talk about next steps. The women wanted to focus on advocacy, education, and outreach while taking a grassroots approach to addressing the disparity on the South Side of Tallahassee and later further efforts in Gadsden County. Later that year, the planning began for a larger community health forum to further disseminate the results of the CPBR project, April 18, 2015 with Dr. Camara Jones as the keynote speaker. Around the same time, the Preconception Health Conference planning committee convened to plan the 2nd annual preconception health conference. There was overlap in planned content for both conferences and synergy around a common goal of achieving maternal and child health equity. The groups combined efforts to create the now Maternal and Child Health Equity Conference.

The combined the efforts of the two groups was a beautiful representation of decreasing silos and working together across disciplines and sectors of our local and regional society to achieve health equity. Additionally, Joedrecka Brown Speights worked with Dean Michael Thompson, and the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences/Institute of Public Health and Center for Health Equity at Florida A & M University, as a key collaborator in sponsorship and partner in planning and implementation of the conference, as well as the Florida Department of Health, the Center on Better Health and Life for Undeserved Populations, and Florida State University College of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Rural Health and Department of Behavioral Science and Social Medicine given their similar interests in working to bring people together to impact systems of change and the education of the future health care workforce (including pharmacy students, Bridge to clinical medicine students, Minority Associate of Pre-Med Students, other premedical students, medical students, public health students, nursing students) and other stakeholders. Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare’s Women’s Pavilion was a key sponsor for the Preconception Health Conference in 2014 and has continued sponsorship and active support in planning and implementation of conference programming as well.  Lastly, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Commissioner Nancy Miller, Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Commissioner Curtis Richardson, and Representative Alan Williams participated and/or lent credence and support to these efforts.

The multi-sector partnership and dedication of the individuals on the planning committee continue to be the key to success. Additionally, the untiring and sustained sponsorship and hosting by Dr. Michael Thompson, Dean, and the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, sponsorship of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare’s Women’s Pavilion, the Florida Department of Health, and the Florida State University College of Medicine and Center on Better Health and Life of Underserved Populations has allowed our unrelenting efforts to continue, be far reaching, and build capacity for collective work and future efforts in paving a path towards maternal and child health equity. Inspired by the work of Dr. Camara Jones, we believe in valuing all individuals and populations equally, increasing awareness of historical injustices, identifying opportunities to work together to provide resources and break down barriers of opportunity, and in promoting advocacy and reaching towards policy change in this arena. We are grateful for new relationships and expanding partnership in 2016 with the Gadsden Arts Center & Museum, Mrs. Thesla Anderson and the SSTRIDE©: Science Students Together Reaching Instructional Diversity & Excellence program, the Florida Department of Health Healthy Babies Initiative, The Center for Health Equity (Gadsden Woman to Woman), and faith-based leaders in Gadsden County like Mrs. Dee Jackson, and Pastor Roosevelt and Mrs. Tarisha Rogers in helping to engage the youth and citizens of Gadsden County as well as becoming a part of conference programming and implementation.

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