Community Champion: Richie Simone Lee, Berkeley County, South Carolina
NOW Learning Community Coalition: Berkeley Early Education and Care Collective
Role: Community Champion, Doula and Certified Lactation Counselor
Q. Tell us about your role as a community champion in South Carolina? What initiatives have you been a part of and how did you get involved?
As the Community Champion for the Berkeley Early Education and Care Collective (BEE Collective), my role has a few different components. I was invited to become a part of the collective due to the fact that I am a mother who lives, works and has children who are a part of our local school system. In addition to attending outreach events in order to advance the efforts of our collective, I also have the opportunity to speak at local and national events to discuss our local initiatives. These initiatives include increasing quality childcare, decreasing suspension and expulsion rates in early education and decreasing the health disparities for mothers and babies that unfortunately exist for mothers in the U.S. Locally, I facilitate parenting and breastfeeding support groups aimed at informing families of their options and educating them on the importance of childbirth education and breastfeeding while providing support through a trauma informed lens. As a result of being a member of the NOW initiative, I have been afforded the opportunity to complete Brazelton Touchpoints Training, attend Community Champion networking/learning opportunities and have attended informative symposiums throughout the country.
Q. What does community leadership mean to you? Can you share more about your own leadership journey?
To me, community leadership means being an unapologetic voice for a community of people who are at some points voiceless and disenfranchised. Initially reluctant to be that voice, I began to see how necessary the perspective of a true community stakeholder actually is. In an area where, even in an age of technology, information and education is allotted only to the elite, I found it necessary to empower families to explore their options, utilize their voices and work as a united force to create a Beloved Community of support, love and necessary change. And it was because of this recognized necessity that I embarked on the journey of birth work. I am now a labor doula, placenta encapsulation specialist, certified family planning health worker and most recently, a certified lactation counselor. I also approach this work from a place of cultural competence realizing that the communities in which I serve deserve care that is nuanced and culturally responsive.
Q. What does it look like for mothers to be able to have birthing and breastfeeding support? What are the benefits? Why should every community make this a priority for their families?
As a teen mother, my access to options and information was very limited. What I aim to provide to my community is the support, advocacy and information that was not available to me. As a doula, my job is to provide physical, educational and emotional support for mothers during their pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum. While in labor, I am a constant figure in the birthing facility. While understanding the normal progression of labor and having the rapport built with mothers and families, having a doula present statistically results in shorter labor times, decreased medical interventions, decreased cesarean rates, higher APGAR scores for baby, increased breastfeeding rates and a more positive overall experience for mothers and their families. This is particularly important in communities of color given the fact that African American mothers are three to four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth related issues.
I am also on hand to provide breastfeeding assistance which is especially necessary in communities of color due to the proven benefits for mother and baby. Not only is baby receiving nourishment that is specifically made for them, it decreases their risks of allergies, improves gut health and decreases cancer risks for the mother. And by having support that is available in a disenfranchised community, it means that we can improve birth and breastfeeding outcomes at a time when it is desperately needed. At this time, breastfeeding “pop-ups” and parental support groups are being initiated in order to do just that. Every community deserves assistance that tackles these issues through a race equity lens in order to bring light to the issues that plight the residents with hopes of providing culturally competent support to improve outcomes for all.
Q. If the NYTimes were to write a front page story on Berkeley County, SC, what would you want for them to say? What would you want the world to know about the role that mothers can have as leaders in their community?
If the NYTimes were featuring the Berkeley Early Education and Care Collective, I would want them to highlight that we are creating the counter stories needed to provide a domino effect for the rest of the nation. Here in Berkeley County, SC we are mobilizing an army of dedicated and resilient people focused on being the change we’d like to see not only in rural Berkeley County, but throughout the country. We are initiating the necessary partnerships, including mothers as influential stakeholders and finding innovative ways to focus on self-care, alternative healing centered practices and empowerment to improve access to care for all residents of Berkeley County.
Q. Where can we find out more information about the BEE Collective and the birth work services you are engaged in?
For more information on the BEE Collective, please visit us on the web at berkeleyfirststeps.com
I can also be contacted at www.birthingwithpurpose.com for information on birth work and services available to the public.
Additional highlights to learn more about the BEE Collective:
Ep.6 In The Arena with NOW: Building Beloved Community for Children and Families in South Carolina
Community Champion Blog Series: This Q&A blog series is a new initiative launched by Tiffany Rodriguez, NOW Program Coordinator, to uplift the incredible leaders walking the walk by leading social change and creating communities where children and families don't just survive, they thrive. Nominate your local community champion here!