Visionaries is a limited series that looks at characters trying to transform the way we live.
dr. Rachel Hardeman’s journey to understand community health care began in Cuba, where she studied medicine and public health at the Latin American School of Medicine from 2002 to 2004. could be,” she said. “I saw that there is a different model for taking care of people than what we know and had been exposed to in the United States.”
In February 2021, Dr. Hardeman, who is now a reproductive health researcher and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, founded the Center for Anti-Racism Research for Health Equity, which seeks healthcare solutions to the effects of policies and attitudes that work against people of color. people. dr. Hardeman is the first to recognize that balancing her academic work and the center can be challenging. “I feel like I’m building a plane while also flying the plane,” she said. “The work cannot stop while I build the infrastructure for the center.”
While the topics and data-driven results of her research — survival rates of black babies cared for by black doctors versus white doctors after difficult deliveries, for example — sometimes spark controversy, Dr. Hardeman that they are necessary to understand the black experience in the United States.
She also partners with the Roots Community Birth Center in Minneapolis, one of the first black birth centers in the United States. Her work has shown the difference Roots and similar centers can make for both mothers and their babies, revealing more positive results than many hospital systems.
Government involvement, said Dr. Hardeman, is also the key. While seeking congressional support, she is leading a working group with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists where “we are tasked with developing a tool to help maternal mortality review committees identify racism as a contributing factor to maternal mortality,” she said.
dr. Hardeman hopes to inspire others to think more broadly about policies that cripple women of color, and in turn devise solutions that protect mothers and babies: “We need to think about the complexities of how all of this turning out right can have an impact.” (The following interview has been abridged and edited.)
When and how did you decide what to focus on?
At Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black university in New Orleans. I was actually on the pre-med path. I talked a lot about health inequalities, but I didn’t have the language for what I was seeing, within my family and my community and especially in New Orleans. Xavier is surrounded by some really poor neighborhoods with few resources and a lot of marginalized people, and so I knew – even in grade school I knew – that I was really interested in the question, how can we change this reality?
And your path to it was through academia?
I went to my Ph.D. program with the intent of getting the training I needed to start working for a policy institute to use evidence to inform policy. And somewhere along the way I started looking around who I was learning from and who I was teaching as a PhD student, who said the words I wanted and needed to hear about racial inequality and health and who didn’t.
What did you learn from that assessment?
I realized that as a graduate student or at the School of Public Health, I had never been taught by anyone who was black. So I thought to myself, “If it’s not me, then who?” What could be my place in academia? What would that look like? Can I take up space in academia and still be true to who I am?
And it seems you’ve found quite a few roles that achieve that. Do you feel like you have to do everything?
I feel like you have to work in multiple places on the spectrum to really get the job done. It’s all interrelated, and I’m a great thinker. I like to think big and bold and broad about this work and the ways it can be connected. So everything I do is very intentional. I feel the urgency deeply. It’s a matter of life and death.
Do you have free time?
[Laughs] Not me. The work has been very interesting and important because we have raised the alarm about the impact of racism on maternal health outcomes. Now we’re trying a little bit to see how we collect this data and identify what’s happening and this maternal death, so that both maternal deaths – mother and child – are not in vain. We also need to be statistically able, from a quantitative or research perspective, to name what is happening, and also to map out how we intervene.
Does your identity as a black woman play into your feeling that you have to do everything in this space?
You know the story of black women who take on the role of caregiver. My daughter and I both have shirts that read ‘Black girls save the world’. I think it’s hard to move away from that phenomenon, especially when I think about the black role models that came before me who did incredible things: my mother and both my grandmothers, who were just incredible people who looked after their families and their communities cared and did what they could to bring about change in the spaces they found themselves in. I come from a family where it was very clear to me from an early age that to whom much is given, much is asked. I’ve always had this sense of responsibility, besides just caring a lot about people – my people – and a lot about liberation.
With all that in mind, how do you take care of yourself to avoid burnout?
Over the past few years, I have become more aware of self-care. I have found a great black female therapist who helps me a lot. I consciously take time off to go away with my family. Recently my husband and I booked plane tickets and went somewhere warm for a few days to relax and get some vitamin D, some sunshine. I also try to change my thinking. I can’t show up if I don’t take care of myself.
I think it was… [the sociologist and DailyExpertNews contributing opinion writer] Tressie McMillan Cottom who said: “These institutions don’t love you or they won’t love you. They are still there to generate knowledge and generate capital, and you have to recognize that you are someone who helps make that possible. But you don’t owe them anything.” This is advice I have to take personally. We are all replaceable.
What would you say to another black woman who might be at the beginning of her career and feel like she has to do anything?
I always want to encourage them to make it clear why they are there and what they want to do. They also need to make sure that’s their motivation. I always say that my purpose in being here is to manifest racial justice so that black women and girls can live their full greatness and glory that they can achieve and have the opportunity for health equality. I think you have to know that and be clear about that to be able to be in the space of spaces that I am in and thrive in.