CLEVELAND, Ohio — First Year Cleveland, a nonprofit organization formed to reverse the trend of infant mortality in Cuyahoga County, reported last year 13,925 babies were born in Greater Cleveland. But 120 of them didn’t see their first birthday, and 71 percent of those babies were African American.
In efforts to continue reversing this alarming trend, the First Year Cleveland pregnancy and infant loss committee has launched OWN (Our Wellness Network) to support African American men, men and families in need of mental health support.
“We’ve been on this pathway for two plus years talking about what it is African American families need emotionally and mentally and so from that point, we said we need to build something by Black people—for Black people. That takes into consideration our culture, our faith and how we are living in America,” said Tracey Carter, the cochair of the pregnancy and infant loss committee.
The network is comprised of African American mental health professionals, peer support specialists and clergy members available to help those who are experiencing stress or depression during the pregnancy, birth or parenting stages.
Danyell Goggans, a grief recovery specialist and lead therapist for OWN, said when individuals or families reach out to the group, they will be matched with a team of professionals to meet their specific needs.
“When Tracey said we're going to name our group Our Wellness Network, the first thing I thought was I need my own, or I want my own. And so what people can expect is to find their own—wherever they are, at whatever stage they are. The one thing about our program is it's client centered which means the parents are in charge. They're in charge of what they need, and they're in charge of how they get it," Goggans said.
Cheryl Martin is a grief recovery specialist with OWN. She said 19 years ago when she lost her son, she needed a program like OWN.
“It has been a taboo for so long to even talk about infant loss. Many people, even your family, your friends, they don't want to talk about it because they don't want to get you upset and that's the most important thing for a parent that has lost a child to be able to communicate," Martin said.
Martin said now that she has done the work to heal from her loss, she’s grateful to be able to help other parents begin their journey.
“Now I am able to just listen to a parent. I’m able to help them walk through the process of they're going through, and it just means the world to me," Martin said.
OWN representatives expect the network to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in Greater Cleveland.