By Sriya Reddy
The one thing The Afiya Center wants the people that walk through its new birthing center’s doors to know is that they are the people it serves.
The Afiya Center, a reproductive justice organization, just opened its Southern Roots Birthing and Wellness Center last weekend complete with fitness classes, doula services, and prenatal and postpartum care.
It will give people of the southern Dallas community access to resources in the areas of reproductive and holistic mental health. Its focus will be more on supporting mothers through their entire pregnancy and beyond rather than assisting with births. But if requested, the center can also be a place where people give birth since some do not want to give birth at a hospital or their own home.
The nonprofit organization is founded and run by Black women and focuses on issues that affect the Black community. Many of those on the team have been in the exact positions as the people they serve.
“The first thing they’re gonna get to see when they walk in is they’re going to see people who are like them,” Jones said. “I don’t necessarily mean in the sense of just Black — but their community. They’re literally going to see people who are just like them.”
The nonprofit organization began in 2008 in response to the rising number of Black women diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Its co-founders, Jones and Mukamtagara Jendayi soon realized how interconnected health is with social determinants that affect many Black people’s lives.
“They really began to examine the wholeness of Black women under the reproductive justice framework,” Cerita Burrell, director of programs, said. “From there, the work was expanded beyond HIV to also address the issues of maternal mortality, and also began to work around doing some abortion-forward work.”
Over the next year, the center is planning on helping between 50-75 people with their birthing journey. However, the team says that number could easily grow.
“The full spectrum of our work never stops so it’s hard to put a true number on it,” Qiana Lewis-Arnold, birth justice associate, said. “I’m almost positive to say that we probably ain’t turning nobody away. If they come, they come.”
D’Andra Willis, birth justice coordinator and Jones’ niece, is overseeing the doula training program, which has trained about a dozen doulas so far, and the center. She said that rather than having its own midwives on staff, Afiya will provide space for midwives from the surrounding community to have a clinic on-site.
Willis said midwives are an important part of Black maternal health culture and they often cannot afford to have their own office space. She said Black doulas will listen to the people they work with, which often doesn’t happen in the traditional medical system.
“Black doulas save lives. We have shared lived experiences in birthing and the compassionate care is there,” Willis said.
Alongside grassroots work, The Afiya Center also works in policy. As election season returns, the center is working with its community to register voters and educate on reproductive issues.
As a whole, the team says the policy work, which they started about five years ago, ties together all the work they do organizing and providing resources.