Bubbling Up

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Missouri Foundation for Health has named Brittany “Tru” Kellman, founder and executive director of Jamaa Birth Village, as its 2018 Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award recipient. Since 2015, Kellman and her team at Jamaa have been caring for and empowering expectant mothers and their families through midwifery services. The organization focuses on racial and health disparities that women and families of color face when seeking access to quality maternal health care.

“Women find their voices at Jamaa,” Kellman explained. “Their minds and emotions are nourished by a network of compassionate, skilled, and supportive peers and professionals at Jamaa. Our patients receive a level of care they never knew existed when they walk through our doors, and we often hear, ‘I wish I had you all when I had my first child; I wouldn’t have gone through what I did if I had Jamaa.”

Kellman is motivated by the fact that through midwifery, Jamaa is breaking generational cycles of poverty and mental health issues and giving babies a better start to life. The birth village is located in Ferguson, a community like many others, that struggles with equity and access. “We’re providing community-based care from the heart of our neighborhoods,” she said. “Eight out of 10 women who come to Jamaa for care, support, or education have experienced trauma, abuse, or biased care from other providers. Just being in a safe and sacred space allows them to heal and learn to love themselves in unique ways, discover health and wellness in a different light, and use their power to choose a provider that represents their own views of care.”

It is Jamaa’s “for-us-by-us” model that Kellman said attracts women to their practice and keeps them coming back. “This work excites me because we’re creating change and developing models of care that reflect, nourish, and nurture our lives.”

Kellman will be honored at MFH’s annual dinner, an invitation-only event held in mid-December. The Walentik award was created to honor the late Dr. Walentik’s commitment to serving vulnerable groups, especially children. Each year the award is presented to a health leader in Missouri who exemplifies the passion, dedication, and energy that Walentik brought to her work. Kellman will receive a $2,500 individual award and, per her direction, $25,000 will go to Jamaa Birth Village. The award will allow Kellman to continue her efforts toward completing midwifery school and becoming Missouri’s first black certified professional midwife, which she hopes will pave a path for more women of color to become skilled and trained in the field.

“It feels surreal and affirming to finally receive recognition for the work that my team and I are carrying out,” said Kellman. “I feel proud of our unwavering dedication and the acknowledgement that comes with never giving up and fighting for people who really need help and whose voices are often unheard. Dr. Walentik was a selfless leader and provider. Her presence in the NICU was a force of compassionate care to ensure that babies born into poverty, too small and too soon, would have a better chance at thriving.”