Kay Matthews, Shades of Blue Project | Juneteenth Q&A

Birth justice and Black joy are central to quality, respectful and equitable maternity care. This Juneteenth, meet four incredible community leaders in maternal health and read how they conceptualize the moment.

For more than a decade, Every Mother Counts has supported leaders in the U.S. who are uplifting birth justice, which not only includes eliminating racial disparities in maternal health, but also fostering Black joy in the lives and maternity care experiences of Black mothers and birthing people in their communities. Birthmark Doula Collective, Shades of Blue Project, Uzazi Village and Roots Community Birth Center exemplify the community and human-centered approach to Black maternal health that is sorely lacking in the U.S. health care system.

Please introduce yourself, your organization, and why you’ve dedicated yourself to this work.

My name is Kay Matthews and I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Shades of Blue Project.

As the Founder of The Shades of Blue Project, my team and I are on a mission to uplift all moms with the care, respect, and dignity they deserve – no matter their social status or birth outcome. Through education, advocacy, and support, we are dedicated to helping women of color whose lives are impacted by racial disparities that amplify their motherhood struggles. It is from my own personal experiences of infant loss and postpartum depression, that I recognized a critical diversity gap in mental health resources and emotional support for Black and minority moms.

We envision and continue to build a safe, compassionate space for underserved women to share their motherhood experiences without judgment, and be provided with essential resources to help better their lives for themselves and their families. Through this work we will continue to inspire leadership through collaborative partnerships with national maternal health organizations, so that we can serve more women and empower them to advocate  for themselves—before, during, and after childbirth.

From the perspective of a Black maternal health advocate and/or care provider, what significance does Juneteenth hold to you?

First, I would like to say that I am happy to see that Juneteenth is getting more recognition than it has in past years. The history of being Black is essential to know and understand just how much a lack of justice still exists as it did in the past. As an advocate for change, I do see how had it not been for our ancestors’ fight for better that I wouldn’t have the ability to be a voice for others as I am today. Our past is a significant part of our future. As a local Texan, I truly understand the journey and process that it can take to get things overturned and wrongs to be made right, so Juneteenth has a special meaning for me, especially living presently today in the state where Juneteenth originates.

From 2021 to future generations, how do you envision birth justice in action?

I envision birth justice in action just as it is stated in action. For the future generation to do this work, it is genuinely based on the steps we are taking now. It is also the radical mindset that gets things to change, and it is not being afraid to speak up when things are not right. I have often said that this work chooses you; you don’t choose it. There is a level of commitment embedded in the souls of birth advocates, and it is most often something that can’t be put into words, so it shows up in our delivery of care. It is the act of doing and not just saying. 

What does centering Black joy in all four trimesters of pregnancy look like? Why is it so important to do so in your experience?

Black Joy is: even though we know the odds are against us, we still look hard for the happiness that we deserve. Just because—why not? It is experiencing our pregnancies without fear. We can make this all different by taking three simple steps:

  1. Acknowledging that we are human and deserve to be treated as such.
  2. Respecting us where we are even if it’s not what you are used to or agree with.
  3. Supporting us because, contrary to beliefs, we need help too. Also, support how we want to be supported in conjunction with what you may feel we may need. 

We must be valued, seen, and heard to obtain anything close to what one considers “Joy.”

How do you and your organization’s team combat inequities in maternity care that affect Black birthing people?

Our approach is simple. We serve the whole person. We have to go back and explore the history of each person we serve and catch up to where they presently are to help them and be effective at our care delivery. Inequities in maternity care affecting Black birthing people will continue to exist as long as systematic racism is not addressed in a way that dismantles and rebuilds systems of care. Until this happens, and even after it does, we will continue to serve from a holistic approach.

How can EMC’s community learn even more about your work?

We would definitely love to stay connected to EMC’s community. We are on most platforms:

Please consider joining us in supporting our grantees on the ground who are actively improving Black maternal health in the U.S.

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