The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

Dying Young, Dying Black

La’ Tanya Pillow named her baby Nevaeh when she was born in February. It’s “heaven” spelled backward, a nod to the joy Pillow felt when the girl was born wriggling with life at 5 pounds, 12 ounces.

Two other babies Pillow gave birth to died, one in 2005 and another in 2007 – both barely a pound, both four months early. The first boy was born still; the other died after a four-hour fight.

The death of a child is not uncommon in Pillow’s world. A number of factors combine to make mothers like Pillow more likely than most to lose a baby.

For starters, she lives in Virginia, which ranks in the bottom half of the country for infant mortality.

And she lives in Norfolk, where rates between 2005 and 2009 were worse than the state average.

And she’s black, a race that in this city had an infant mortality rate more than double that of whites.

Put the numbers together, and you find that black babies born in Norfolk have a death rate substantially larger than that of the country as a whole.

Yes, you read that right. Black babies here have a death rate higher than that of the entire country. The article gives several reasons as to why this is-poverty, lack of access to good healthcare, poor health, too many teen moms and too many single parents.

Some in my circles will say “well, these people shouldn’t be having babies if they’re not prepared to deal with them,”  or rant about how government dependency is the real culprit here. Agree with the former, disagree with the latter. But, to me, the “why” isn’t as important as the “what can we do about it?” And there’s plenty of things that can be done that will cost little-or nothing.

Clearly, the first thing we should be doing is talking to teens who are sexually active. Abstinence is great, but we’ve gotta start dealing with the reality we have, where abstinence doesn’t often happen. That doesn’t mean we should go out handing out condoms at schools either. What we should be doing is finding young mothers and fathers to go into schools to talk about the reality of having kids at a young age. Let them tell their stories, and let those stories speak for themselves. Let them be the examples-not in a negative, “this is what happened to me and no one will help” way, but in a “I’m making it, but it’s a struggle that you don’t want or need right now” way.  Most teens/young adults will take heed to something coming from their own peers than from a much older adult.

Of course, there are those who won’t listen, or who-honestly-slip up. For these, our goal shouldn’t be throwing them out into the world unprepared, but to prepare them as much as possible for the life they now face, as well as the one they will bring into the world. Women should be taking these mothers-to-be and ensuring that they know about the options available to them as far as getting proper care for themselves and their soon-to-arrive kids. Men should be role models for expectant fathers, letting them know what responsibilities they have and how to best meet them. Yes, there are centers that do this type of work daily…but is there any reason why an individual close to an expectant mother and/or father couldn’t be the mentor they need?

And lastly, the black community-and most other minority communities-need a radical shift in health care. Not to the government…but to ourselves. Since we already know that our communities suffer disproportionately from certain problems-high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, all of which can make a newborn’s life or their mother’s more difficult-we’ve got to get ourselves away from the behaviors that can lead to them. More importantly, we’ve got to take some initiative ourselves and for those around us.

And, yes, there’s a role for government to play as well. If we know that certain communities are predisposed to higher rates of pregnancy and higher rates of infant mortality, then we should figure out how we can get appropriate health care facilities-and no, that doesn’t mean Planned Parenthood-around those communities so that care, advice and counseling is close to their doorstep…not 3-4 bus routes away.

Taking care of our children-and yes, their children-should be a trust we all share. Yes, there’s many culprits, many obstacles, many reason why these statistics are what they are. And I’m sure that other demographics suffer with this same problem. Yes, these parents have a huge responsibility, but we as the community they will live in have one as well-to educate, help prevent, and-when prevention fails-to assist in whatever ways we can.




Written by Coby Dillard

January 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm

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