Howard University men’s basketball joins the fight to protect the health of Black mothers as the nation faces a crisis that puts Black women at heightened risk for pregnancy-related complications and death.
The team will host a special event prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the Mamatotu Village organization that focuses on combating racism and health disparities for Black mothers. The event will be held Sunday in Washington, D.C., where the team will help pack pregnancy care kits.
Howard’s coaches say the players decided to focus on the issue after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year — a controversial decision expected to leave millions of black and brown women without access to abortion care.
In many states, black and Hispanic women undergo abortions at higher rates than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compiles data from state health agencies.
Black women are also three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy complications, according to the CDC, and they experience racism from health care providers at higher rates.
“Women’s health issues are not just women’s health issues,” Howard’s basketball coach Kenny Blakeney told CNN. “Everyone is affected by this, not only women but men as well.”
Blakeney says he recruits players who he feels can help continue the university’s legacy of social justice activism.
“When we recruit our student-athletes at Howard, we’re not just recruiting them to represent us on the basketball court,” Blakeney said.
Blakeney says he gives the team a choice about which social justice activity they want to participate in each year. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, he said his players felt they had to do something for the health of the black mother.
Team captain and keeper Jelani Williams says the players thought it was important for them to use their platform to highlight an important issue but it was not being talked about enough.
“We have black mothers, aunts, cousins, friends, and we just felt like it would be…a good issue to highlight,” Williams said.
Newcomer Shane Odom says he was immediately supportive of the project.
“I kind of relate to him,” Odom said. “I have a single black mother. She had it very young, so I feel as connected to her, it would be a good cause of support.”
Mamatotu organizers say they are grateful for the basketball team’s efforts and agree that black maternal health problems affect men, too.
Black maternal health is not “a burden that black women have to bear alone,” said Executive Director Azza Nadhari. She adds that black males have a responsibility, too. “Black men are fathers and they are brothers,” Nedari said.
Nedari appreciates any help for her organization.
“It’s always refreshing when black men join our side to raise the bar on current issues,” Nedari said. “It can’t be Black women who carry the bag and take all responsibility for making improvements to something that is a systemic and societal problem that is rooted in racism.”