Brittany "Tru" Kellman and Jazmine McDonald

Brittany "Tru" Kellman listened to the heartbeat of Jazmine McDonald’s daughter when working with her as a doula in Ferguson in 2016. Kellman is the founder and executive director of Jamaa Birth Village.

Brittany "Tru" Kellman, the founder and executive director of Jamaa Birth Village, has received the 2018 Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The award was created to honor the late Dr. Walentik's commitment to serving vulnerable groups, especially children. Each year it is presented to a health leader in Missouri who exemplifies the passion, dedication, and energy that Walentik brought to her work.

Since 2015, Kellman and her team at Jamaa have been caring for and empowering expectant mothers and their families through midwifery services. The organization focuses on racial and health disparities that women and families of color face when seeking access to quality maternal health care.

"Women find their voices at Jamaa," Kellman said. "Their minds and emotions are nourished by a network of compassionate, skilled, and supportive peers and professionals at Jamaa. Our patients receive a level of care they never knew existed when they walk through our doors, and we often hear, 'I wish I had you all when I had my first child; I wouldn't have gone through what I did if I had Jamaa.’"

Kellman said that through midwifery Jamaa is breaking generational cycles of poverty and mental health issues and giving babies a better start to life. The birth village is located in Ferguson, a community that struggles with equity and access like many others.

"We're providing community-based care from the heart of our neighborhoods," she said. "Eight out of 10 women who come to Jamaa for care, support, or education have experienced trauma, abuse, or biased care from other providers."

Kellman told The American in 2016 that in addition to midwives, Jamaa makes sure that every woman who wants a doula – an education and emotional support provider – has one. While the midwife is the skilled professional in low-risk pregnancy and birth who actually delivers babies, doulas provide mothers with emotional and physical support during the pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. 

“The primary role of the doula is to be there for the mothers, babies and their partner during pregnancy, birth and post-partum,” Kellman said. “Usually, we are there to offer comfort measures, different positioning ideas and education throughout the course of pregnancy and postpartum.” 

She said with a doula, “it’s like having your own personal assistant or person that’s there to assist you if you want to have a birth with low intervention. Sometimes, if you go into birth uneducated and you’re in a hospital, there could be a lot of intervention based on how the hospital regulates birth, which can cause issues with mother and baby.” 

Kellman will be honored at the Missouri Foundation for Health's annual dinner, an invitation-only event. She will receive a $2,500 individual award and, per her direction, $25,000 will go to Jamaa Birth Village. She said the award will allow her to continue her efforts toward completing midwifery school and becoming Missouri's first black certified professional midwife, which she hopes will pave a path for more women of color to become skilled and trained in the field.

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