In countless ways, mothers are the backbone of our society, bringing forth new life and raising the next generation of leaders. And yet, mothers are also some of the most forgotten members of our society. Particularly for women of color, birthing mothers still face disparate outcomes regarding pregnancy-related mortality and complications. Now, community leaders from across the State are joining forces to better serve women and make Trenton a great place to be a mom.
On October 24th, 2022, leaders from across the community gathered together to discuss plans for a Maternal Health Center and Community Hub at 42 Pennington Ave in Trenton, NJ. Catalyzed by the Greater Mount Zion Community Development Corporation under the leadership of Rev. Charles Boyer, community leaders have developed a plan for a tandem birthing center and community center. Providing these resources will be a critical first step in reducing maternal health disparities and improving birthing outcomes here in New Jersey’s Capital City. The center also hopes to serve as a safe space for the broader community. Resources will be available for residents in the hopes of resolving conflict, lowering instances of violence, and providing better access to various programs and support systems.
So far, the project has managed to secure $2 million in funding from the State of New Jersey. Speaking on the importance of the project, NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin noted “on a primary level, it matters to people in this community. And we know how important maternal health is and how disparate the treatment is. We have to be committed to the things that are at the core, and at the essence of what makes us a great state.”
Discussing the church’s role in the development of this project, Rev. Boyer stated “the Greater Mount Zion Community Development Corporation was established to perpetuate both the history of the Church but also the original organizing and love for community that the Church was all about. And so I’m very happy that the GMZCDC is here, it is alive, and making a difference.”
According to Crystal Charley-Sibley, founder of Melanin and Maternal Wellness, “within walking distance of the center is some of the highest poverty rate in the city, I’m talking $14,000 median incomes. It is 84% black, and most of the homes in this area are headed by young black mothers. And so what this center could be is phenomenal.” Continuing to discuss the restorative justice aspect of the project, Charley-Sibley explained “a restorative justice center, here in the City, where the Street Team has a beautiful home and where community members can come in and resolve conflict… we can be a beacon of light to prevent youth violence and prevent youth going into the system.”
Another powerhouse contributor to this initiative is Trenton Community Street Teams, led by Tracey Syphax and working via relationship-based direct intervention to provide community members with conflict de-escalation and healthy coping mechanisms. This is done in an effort to reduce instances of violence, mediate disputes, and promote non-violent behaviors within our community. As one Street Team member Diane Bellamy stated, “we give them tools for how to breathe, and how to self-regulate. This is how you change a community, when you changes kids, when you change how their minds work and allow them to be the captain of their bodies.” The Street Teams hope to utilize the Community Hub to continue their efforts and provide further supports for the surrounding neighborhoods.
From birth through adulthood, the Community Hub hopes to better serve Trenton’s youth, mothers, and families, making this a better community to raise a family. We had a chance to speak with Representative Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, who represents NJ’s 15th Legislative District. When asked about the project, Rep. Reynolds-Jackson stated “this Maternal Health Center is going to be an amazing project. To be able to have maternal health care right here in the city of Trenton, with professionals to bring that cultural experience, also to be able to have the community restorative justice as well… it’s a natural partnership.”
We went on to discuss some of the issues mothers face in our community, including reliable access to health care. “Half the battle is really just talking about health concerns. What does that look like? Sometimes, that’s not even an option for some moms because ‘no, I have to go to work. I have to do this’, but if you’re sick you can’t go! Those are all issues that we continue to work on, so I think this Community Hub and Maternal Health Center is just a win-win for the community,” noted Reynolds-Jackson.
When asked about some of the challenges in developing this project, Rep. Reynolds-Jackson noted that aside from the $2 million in funding already secured, “we’re still going to need another $1 million [in funding] to bring it all together. But this is the first step, they’ve already started getting rid of the old stuff to make this into a beautiful facility.” She continued on to discuss how the partnership between the legislature and other advocacy groups makes for a sustainable future for the center long-term.
Regarding her hopes for the future, Reynolds-Jackson stated “the ultimate goal is to be able to have a beautiful birthing facility here and along with pediatric care, I think that would be the ultimate goal, to bring the birthing experience back to the Capital City.” Stressing the importance of community and civic engagement, she also went on to note “we just want to make sure that everybody knows the vision, that it doesn’t just stop at the State level, it’s at the local level too. So it’s just a really important that when we have a vision like that, the community comes out to support it.”
As we look to the future and all this Center will have to offer, it is paramount that we continue the conversation regarding motherhood and birthing in our community. Serving our community’s mothers and children will ultimately benefit us all, making Trenton a better, safer place to have and raise a family.
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