In the true fashion of Howard University’s motto, “Truth and Service”, their men’s basketball team participates in a community service effort to help Black maternal health in D.C as part of their “Day of Service.”
On the heels of the worsening Black mortality rates in D.C. and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the issue of Black maternal health has been brought to the forefront of women’s health and reproductive health discourse. According to a study conducted by the office of the chief medical examiner, specifically the fatality review division maternal mortality review committee, Black women accounted for 90 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths in D.C.
Under the platform advanced by their MLK Day game against Morehouse College, the team officially started volunteer efforts surrounding Black maternal health on Jan. 15. The team partnered with Mamatoto Village, an organization run by Black women with the intention to serve Black women through career pathways and support services for maternal health, to build care packages.
Mariah Oates, Mamatoto Village’s director of communications and advocacy, in an interview with Uninterrupted, spoke about the importance of not just having women fight for the cause, but everyone.
“They are putting together postpartum kits lactation kits, hygiene kits, things that are really going to affect and impact the moms today,” Oates said. “And then just past this, they have been able to speak about black maternal health, which is so important because it’s important to have black men on the front lines as well.”
During the “Day of Service,” they packaged 7,950 diapers, 50 diaper bags and 190 kits for postpartum, lactation support plus household supplies, according to The Hilltop.
While head coach Kenny Blakeney’s main efforts to construct a winning team are significant, he also prioritizes encouraging his players to be active and well-rounded members of the community off the court.
“The basketball part is important and it’s a big part of it, but I want young men to
understand that I want them to have a broader experience than just on the basketball court,” Blakeney tells Uninterrupted. “How can they grow as a person how can they grow and prepare themselves for the next 40 to 50 years.”
Team caption and guard Jelani Williams also speaks to Blakeney’s insistence on service and how it connects with him. “Coach Blakely, as he was recruiting me here from my last year of basketball, he knew that about me,” he said. “Part of his recruitment was like we really welcome that and…try and get the most out of our students and our athletes in terms of service.”
Brionna Seward, a junior nursing major, maternal and child health and sociology double minor, had thoughts on the initiative and how it inspired her to get active as well. “Seeing their posts prompted me to look into the organization their supporting and to even consider doing community service there or try to figure out how to support them in some way,” she said. “I feel like we’re at Howard and chose to go to Howard for a reason, not only for our education but to also enact change in our community.”
The men’s basketball team’s efforts toward Black maternal health didn’t stop at one community service effort. They continue to rally for Black maternal health through Mamatoto Village and partnerships with similar organizations like Planned Parenthood Advocates for DC, Maryland, and NoVa, the Black Maternal Health Caucus and more. On Feb. 21, they hosted a private screening of “Birthing Justice” and a panel discussion.
The team recognizes the impact of financial support and pledged to donate 35 percent of all proceeds gathered from the purchasing of the “Black Maternal Health” t-shirts they collectively wore during their community service.
The team correspondingly facilitated a Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors-funded $7,500 scholarship for two women at Howard for balancing their studies and motherhood, as reported by the NBA. Their chief program strategist Daniel Marks presented the award to Aniya Majors-Rivera and NaKeshia Rawlings.
Most recently, the team has announced a partnership with Scouting and Scavenging, an initiative that challenges people in sports to collect unused hotel toiletries and donate them, on March 16, to donate supplies to Mamatoto Village at the end of every road trip this season.
To learn more about the advocacy efforts made by the men’s basketball team, visit their official Twitter account, @HUMensBB, for more information.