The first State of the Black Child Symposium hosted by Great Beginnings for Black Babies Inc. (GBBB), was held last Friday at the California Endowment in Los Angeles and the alarming rates of Black infant mortality was among the topics addressed.

GBBB was also celebrating 20 years of service to its community.

Rae Jones, executive director, opened the event by addressing the mission of GBBB, which is to reduce Black infant mortality by encouraging women to seek early and continuous prenatal care.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the first African American male to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, spoke about the importance of GBBB and the services it provides.

“This is important, important stuff that we’re doing here. GBBB defends the quality of life in Los Angeles for the African American child, from birth through the course of life.”

He also spoke about the Safe Sleeping Campaign, which helps prevent unnecessary deaths.

In 2007, 4,200 infants, less than three months old, suffocated while sleeping in the same bed with their parents.

Ridley-Thomas also informed participants that there has been a decrease in low birth-weight babies, however, he agreed that the reduction is not enough.

The symposium also included a panel of seven distinguished individuals who feel very strongly about changing the way the Black community is perceived and treated. That panel included Inglewood councilmember Danny Tabor, who facilitated the conference; Cynthia Harding, director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Programs; Loretta Jones, CEO of Healthy African American Families II; Marguerite LaMotte, Los Angeles Unified School District board member; Areva Martin, CEO of the Special Needs Networt Inc.; Holly Mitchell, CEO Crystal Stairs Inc.; and Zena Oglesby, CEO of the Institute for Black Parenting.

Harding made an interesting point while addressing the issue of infant mortality and its alarming rate in the Black community.

“If we want to have healthy babies, we need to have healthy women,” Harding said.

She went on to speak about preconception and unplanned babies.

“Fifty-seven percent of African American babies are unplanned,” Harding said.

Because these babies are unplanned, most of the time, women don’t get the proper health care to protect the child from diseases.

Racism was not a topic intended to be addressed during the discussions about the issues that affect the Black community. But it inevitably came up.

“Racial/ethnic disparity is the chronic effect on racism,” continued Harding. “Forty-two percent of pregnant African-American women experience some sort of discrimination, which leads to stress.

To help overcome health disparities, we need to overcome racism.”

Jones concurred with Harding and added that “institutional racism is killing us.”

As the panel discussed the importance of eliminating racism to overcome health disparities, Martin pointed out that education was much needed, when addressing any kind of issue.

“If a White child is not mumbling or speaking by the age of one, the mother rushes to the doctor, but if a Black child is not speaking by the age of three, that’s when the mother begins to worry,” Martin said.

Martinadded that it is pivotal for parents to contribute to their children’s education as well as be informed about the different kinds of disabilities children can encounter. She said, there is a great need for parents to be educated on different issues concerning their children in order to help their offspring grow.

Finally, Oglesby closed the panel discussion, when he spoke about the importance of having a father figure in the household. He pointed out how many children live in a single-parent household and that single parent is usually the mother. He praised the Fatherhood Initiative, a program launched in 2009 by GBBB that equips men with the necessary tools to play an active role in their children’s lives.

“There are more Black men in jail than there are Black men in college,” Oglesby said.

After the panel discussion, participants were given the choice to attend three different sessions, which included The Destruction of the Black Family, Taking Care of Our Children, and Crib to the Penitentiary Pipeline/Breaking the Cycle.

Crib to the Penitentiary Pipeline/Breaking the Cycle primarily addressed the issues the young African-American community faces. The panelist for this discussion included Torrence Brandon Reese, project coordinator for Audubon Middle School gang prevention program; Meschellia Smith, executive director of Much More Bounce Youth Foundation; Aquil Basheer, executive director of Maximum Force Enterprises; and Harold Hambrick, president and executive producer of South Los Angeles MultiServices Inc. (SLAM.)

Participants were able to ask the panelists questions concerning how their programs are helping break the cycle as well as how to help those who have left the cycle integrate back to a stereotypical society.

The panelists all agreed that there are certain steps to break the cycle, which included mentoring the kids and start a company to hire these youth and teach them about the business, community outreach programs and good parenting.

Kids who are not nurtured, feel abandoned and hurt; they then start picking up on bad habits and think that no one cares for them, leading them to flirt with violence and gangs.

The panel discussion ended with a quote from Frederick Douglas; “It’s easier to build strong children then to repair broken men.”

After the break-out sessions, the symposium ended with a follow-up, facilitated by Martin, who spoke about how to influence public policy to benefit Black children.