Mizzou’s Annual Black Studies Conference Highlights Racial Health Disparities

| Reproaction

By: Evonnia Woods

On October 11 and 12, the Black Studies department at the University of Missouri – Columbia (Mizzou) held its annual conference. This year the theme was addressing racial health disparities, which arose from the Black History Month panel I organized back in February. The two-day conference was co-organized by a committee of two professors – April Langley, chair, Department of Black Studies, and Dr. Dave Dunkley, conference chair – and two graduate students – Chuka Emezue and myself. Normally, the conference relies on a call for submissions, which is a process that requires folks to submit their abstracts and papers that they want to present. This year, the committee wanted to be more intentional about the process, so they reached out to people directly instead of relying on people to submit. Every committee member contributed to the planning process, which is how we ended up prioritizing a discussion centering on a range of health disparities that affect Black people. It is also how we ended up with a range of healthcare experts and professionals who could speak about racial health disparities from varying perspectives. Participants included scholars, advocates, community organizers, doulas, midwives, and nurses.

We were very intentional about prioritizing the voices of Black people, especially those who reside in Missouri, to discuss Black people’s experiences and the solutions we’ve generated in our communities. The keynote speaker was Brittany “Tru” Kellman, the founding director of Jamaa Birth Village in Ferguson, Missouri.[1] The first panel covered historical perspectives on race and health throughout the diaspora, and participating scholars provided detailed coverage of specific cases that speak to a variety of attitudes that have continued to fuel racial health disparities. The second panel consisted of a variety of healthcare experts covering a range of preventable outcomes fueled by intersecting systemic issues. The third panel was about contemporary issues that disproportionately affect health outcomes for Black people like child abuse and police brutality. The fourth panel specifically focused on Black men’s health, and covered the impact of trauma, HIV, and domestic violence.

On the second day, Reproaction screened Fusion TV’s documentary, The Naked Truth: Death by Delivery. As organizer of our maternal and infant mortality campaign, I spoke about our role as educators. Black women are dying preventable deaths at more than three times the rate of white women in a country that outspends every other country on healthcare. We should all be outraged!

We wanted to emphasize solutions, so we ended the conference with a panel of Black women who have started organizations that work in Missouri and address racial health disparities by centering the most marginalized. We aimed for this conference to be more than just another space where people discuss the issues, and this panel was filled with brilliant souls who helped us deliver on this by sharing their experiences. Reproaction’s co-founder, Pamela Merritt was there beaming with pride while representing us. Felicia Anunoby was there as a founding member and current president of the Mid-Missouri Black Nurses Association and founder of the Ocean Star Foundation, which helps girls in Nigeria gain education opportunities .[2] Diane Burkeholder was there as the co-founder of the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition, which works to update HIV laws. [3] Tru Kellman stuck around after her keynote to participate on this panel and talk more specifically about Jamaa Birth Village’s work in addressing racial health disparities. Last, but certainly not least, Hakima Payne graced us with her journey in building Uzazi Village in Kansas City, where members work on building community as they address maternal and infant mortality rates.

You can help us continue to advance important discussions that center the work of Black women activists by staying tuned for future events in our Black Women in Activism series. You can also join our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and support our work through donations.


  1. https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/missouri-s-first-black-midwife-advocates-for-accessible-maternal-care/article_689b6748-ec7e-11e9-9bf5-d70a04955d89.html
  2. https://www.nbna.org/AF_MemberCommittee.asp?committeeid=177
  3. https://www.facebook.com/MOHIVJustice/
  4. http://www.uzazivillage.org/


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