The job titles and roles of activists may differ, but a good activist can be spotted by their passion and dedication to their work. Despite how time consuming activism can be, it is not something you get into for recognition or notoriety. Most of us choose our paths of activism based on the impact we want to have or life sort of decides for us by placing us in social locations where the only path that makes sense is one of resistance. High levels of recognition are typically reserved for men, the wealthy, or those who have been doing this for so long that their fame is an accumulated fame. This blog series is not a remedy to this situation, but rather designed as a way to highlight activists and their justice work through brief interviews.
This installment is an interview with the Executive Director of Uzazi Village, Hakima Tafunzi Payne. Responses were provided during a one-on-one phone interview, and this interview was reviewed and approved by Ms. Payne prior to publication.
What led to your passion for maternal and infant care?
Giving birth myself. So having my own babies, my own pregnancies. I had my first baby when I was 15 and I suffered all the stigma of teen pregnancy and birth. While I was pregnant, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the entire process. The year was 1978, so most of the material I found in the library was about home birth and natural birth and even though I knew I wouldn’t have that kind of birth, I knew one day I would; and I did with my fourth baby. With my fourth baby, I finally did have that home birth experience and that’s when I knew I wanted to spend my life helping women have that birthing experience. I immediately enrolled in nursing school with the idea of becoming a midwife.
Is nursing school a stepping stone to becoming a midwife?
It’s a prerequisite if you want to become a certified nurse midwife (CNM). There are two different types of midwives: a certified nurse midwife and a certified professional midwife (CPM). CPMs are educated directly in midwifery. There’s also a difference in scope and place of practice. Most CNMs work in hospitals and birth centers, while CPMs work in homes. They are also reimbursed differently depending on what state they are in. Though CPMs can get paid through insurance, and they often do, they also get paid out of pocket. CNMs just bill insurance companies.
What have been the guiding principles of your work through the years? Have these principles changed? If so, what led to these changes?
Integrity. I say what I mean and mean what I say. That hasn’t changed. I’m more committed to that than ever. Also, a very keen sense of social justice and value of equity, seeking equality in outcomes – which everybody talks about but are not keen on doing something about it that is truly effective. These are my guiding principles; mainly because I have to live with myself. Those are the things that I feel get to the crux of the work that I do. I think you need a strong sense of ethics to keep going.
Did you complete your goal of becoming a certified nurse midwife?
The short answer is no. Having gone to CNM school, now I know what that process is, and it really doesn’t prepare you for home births which is what I’m interested in. It only prepares you for hospital birth – even though you can practice in birth centers and homes. I spent a lot of money to learn that. I was preparing myself for a venue I had no interest in working in. I have since been working on becoming a CPM. When I am certified as a midwife I won’t work in hospitals. That was never my interest. It was hospital birth I was fleeing. Besides, home birth cannot be duplicated in a hospital setting.
How many Black midwives are there in Missouri?
Black midwives? There are no black CPMs and I’m not sure how many Black CNMs. There may be one or two.
What’s being done to address that?
What’s being done depends on who you ask but since you’re asking me, not nearly enough. At the Missouri Midwives Association, we (five Black midwifery students) voted in a Midwife of Color committee that we refer to as MOC for short. We meet monthly via conference call. There are five dues paying members.
How have your experiences as a Black woman helped you build your practices?
Everything I do is through the lens of my Black culture. So how I view birth, how I’m educating myself as a midwife, and what my future practice will look like is through that lens. The work I do has been and continues to be inspired by the higher rate of maternal and infant mortality rates among Black women. To know that we don’t receive justice through healthcare or maternity care is what informs my practices.
How did the decision to form Uzazi Village come about? What was your original vision? How close are you to attaining that vision?
Uzazi Village was born 20 yrs ago while I was working the night shift in labor and delivery at one of the local hospitals. When I saw how black women were treated in maternity care, I saw that nothing had changed from when I had given birth as a teenager; my first labor and delivery job was at the same hospital I had given my first birth at. Even though 15 years had passed, nothing had changed. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place Black women could go to get humane treatment.” I didn’t even think excellent treatment, I just thought humane treatment. I started sketching in my notebook to think about what that would look like as a way to occupy my mind when the night would slow down. I begin to map out how I would provide care differently. It (Uzazi Village) didn’t even have a name back then but I knew that was what I wanted to do. Now, Uzazi is 5 years old and we’re halfway into a 10-year plan, which includes five years of community education. Our plan includes opening a prenatal clinic which we’re building now, opening a midwifery school which we plan to do in the next two to three years, and opening a birthing center which we hope to do in the next four to five years.
What is Uzazi Village’s mission and vision?
Our vision is to center Black and brown families in maternal and infant health. Our vision is: “For every family a healthy baby. For every baby a healthy village.”
How did the name for Uzazi (pronounced oo-za-zee) come about?
Uzazi is Swahili for birth, and it was chosen for its afrocentric sound which is the aesthetic feel we’re going for with the organization.
What does Uzazi Village do?
We provide pregnancy support and education geared toward communities of color. Communities of color experience an unfair burden of health inequities, and we’re trying to right this fundamental and social injustice. We do that through educating, supporting, and advocating for community families – and healthcare and social service providers who take care of those families. We also work to support candidates of color who want to diversify healthcare and social service professions.
How does doing this work in Missouri present its own challenges?
Missouri is a real conservative state with its own laws around reproduction, which makes it challenging for low income women to get the care they need. The state just recently improved their Medicaid system where women can now receive care in a more timely fashion. It used to take four to six months for women to get enrolled in healthcare programs because the process was so cumbersome. Now it’s more like two to four months, which is not optimal, but it’s better.
Often times, people reflect on how much their work has impacted others, but how has your work at Uzazi Village affected you?
It has had a huge impact on my life. My work at Uzazi has made me a community leader; a role that I take very seriously. I know that I serve as a mentor and a model to others. It’s had a really profound impact on my life. I believe I’ve been given this vision to manifest and it truly takes up my every waking moment. I wouldn’t trade it for anything I can think of.
Contact information and a biography for our interviewee are below:
Hakima Tafunzi Payne, Founder & Executive Director of Uzazi Village
Hakima Tafunzi Payne has a Bachelor’s of Nursing and a Master’s in Nursing Education. She is currently a student of Midwifery working toward the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential. She is an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE). Ms. Payne is currently enrolled at Walden University pursuing a doctorate in Nursing Education. She is also the Executive Director of Uzazi Village, a nonprofit dedicated to decreasing perinatal health disparities in communities of color. She is an editor for Clinical Lactation Journal, and sits on the board of the National Association for Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC), and she serves on her local Fetal Infant Mortality Review Board (FIMR). She presents at professional meetings on these topics. Her career goals include increasing the number of midwives of color and improving lactation rates in the African-American community through increasing the number of IBCLCs of color. Ms. Payne resides in Kansas City, MO.