Leadership from the African American Council of Churches, Wisconsin State Assembly Representative-elect Shelia Stubbs and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi held a press conference on Nov. 13 at Mt. Zion Church on Madison’s south side highlighting a community-wide effort to reduce infant mortality and announcing the kick off of Safe Sleep Sabbath, a collaboration with African American churches and local health systems to help save babies from unnecessary deaths.

“Safe Sleep Sabbath is another avenue we use to try to bring awareness to those mothers that come into all of our church about saving the lives of our babies,” Mt. Zion Pastor Marcus Allen said in the welcome for the event. “We’re here to help the community and to strengthen the community and to bring this awareness.”

Allen added that this will be the fourth year that they will have Safe Sleep Sabbath which will take place this Sunday, Nov. 18. A host of Madison-area African-American churches will participate in this initiative. “We preach about it, pray about it, and most of all we talk to our congregants about this awareness of the safety for our children,” Allen said, explaining what Safe Sleep Sabbath was all about.

Mt. Zion Rev. Marcus Allen

Carola Gaines is one of the co-chairs of the African American Safe Sleep Sabbath Coalition.

“On Nov. 18, that will be our day that we all will celebrate in our churches. Pastors will preach about it, we will pray about it, we will have demonstrations in our churches regarding keeping our African-American babies safe and making sure that they are in a safe environment for sleep,” she said.

Mothers and their babies attended the kick-off of Safe Sleep Sabbath, a collaboration with African American churches and local health systems to help save babies from unnecessary deaths.

“We are excited to hopefully continue to make an impact on this issue,” she added. “As many of you all know, for African Americans, church is our foundation … church is where we all gather. So we wanted to start here as we will branch out in our communities.”

County Executive Joe Parisi told the crowd that this was one more example of a racial disparity in our community that must be addressed. “This issue should always be a part of the racial disparity conversation also,” he said. “The community led effort by Safe Sleep Sabbath and African-American churches is critical to making change and moving forward.”

Parisi read a proclamation announcing Nov. 18 as Safe Sleep Sabbath Awareness Day throughout Dane County. Parisi introduced longtime Dane County Board member Shelia Stubbs who recently was elected to serve on the Wisconsin State Assembly.

“We are here today to highlight the important initiatives of Safe Sleep Sabbath Sunday Awareness event in the African-American community regarding our black infant mortality rate,” Stubbs said.

Shelia Stubbs

From 2012-2017, she said, there were 24 Sudden Infant Deaths [SID death] in Dane County.

“We need our babies to continue to live. In 2017, black babies in Dane County were twice as likely as white babies to be born with low birth weight,” Stubbs said. “This is an unacceptable trend that has persisted for years.”

Low birth weight means the baby has been bore at weight of 5 pounds and 8 ounces or less, she added.

“We know that black mothers are more likely than white women to have socioeconomic challenges that contribute to poor birth outcomes,” Stubbs said. “Some of these challenges include racism, discrimination, low income, food insecurities and inadequate housing. These experiences lead to a high level of chronic stress for some black mothers which can lead to problems like high blood pressure which may increase the risks of pre-term births.

“It is critical here today that we continue this partnership that we have with the African American Council of Churches and the other churches and pastors that are here today,” she added. “We want to make sure that this awareness takes place and I’m so thankful that Joe Parisi found this effort fitting enough to proclaim Sunday, Nov. 18, Safe Sleep Sabbath Awareness Day.”

So what will be the goals of this effort?

“We don’t want to hear about these statistics any more. We want those statistics to go down,” Gaines said. “And they have since we have started. They have trickled down. But next year when we come, we want to say, ‘In 2018, we had no African American deaths in our county.’ We don’t want to have Safety Sunday to continue on in our lifetime because this is something that we can stop.”