In this year of uncertainty and division, a small midwestern town banded together to create a space that celebrates life. Named for the Swahili word for family, the Jamaa Birth Village and Equal Access Clinic brings personal midwifery services to Ferguson, Missouri.
The brainchild and “heartchild” of Tru Kellman, the first Black Certified Professional Midwife in the state of Missouri, the nonprofit clinic provides pre-and postnatal care for expectant mothers and works to improve fair treatment of families of color. The Equal Access Clinic was created in partnership with Open Hand Studio, the pro bono arm of St. Louis–based firm CannonDesign.
“In parts of St. Louis, the infant mortality rate for Black women is higher than it is in some third world countries. The racial discrepancies here are particularly pronounced in terms of birth outcomes,” said Elise Novak, a designer and project lead at CannonDesign.
The Equal Access Clinic works to reduce those discrepancies with its calm and inviting space. The focal point of the clinic is a spa room, complete with a single-person sauna and sound therapy for relaxation.
“Part of the reason for poorer birth outcomes for Black women is not just the stress that their daily life involves, often in terms of poverty level,” said Novak, “but being able to find moments to relax is very important.”
The spa room is bolstered by herbs and natural remedies supplied from Kellman’s Apothecary, located in the same building. The Jamaa Birth Village combines cultural-based traditions with evidence-based care to give expectant mothers holistic midwifery and doula services.
The clinic also includes a large living room that doubles as a waiting area and classroom, a breastfeeding room, a children’s play space for expectant mothers who have other children, and a group office for consulting chiropractors and massage therapists.
Kellman’s services go beyond prenatal appointments by working to build healthy lifestyles for growing families. There is a kitchenette where Kellman teaches basic nutrition and cooking classes with produce provided by Empowered Spaces, a local community garden program.
“Jamaa also had an intern over summer 2020, who helped the clinic start community gardens at two locations of their own,” Novak said. The intern set up a Community Supported Agriculture program for local families.
The entire project was characterized by teamwork and community building, especially in terms of fundraising. The Jamaa Birth Village, which opened on Juneteenth of this year, resides in a partially donated doctor’s office that dates back to the 1930s. Kellman organized a fundraiser to cover the cost of buying the remainder of the building and its renovation. The overhaul included new mechanical systems, plumbing fixtures, doors and windows, flooring, ceilings, casework, lighting, and roof repair. The age of the original office magnified the expense of bringing the building fully up to date, so certain spaces, like a birthing suite, were trimmed in favor of using Kellman’s budget for much-needed clinic programs and services.
The budget, which was largely funded through grants, failed to cover interior finishes, so CannonDesign worked with Kellman to coordinate paint and flooring donations. Kellman organized an Adopt-A-Room fundraiser for the furniture, garnering local support and furnishing the clinic in less than 24 hours—in Kellman’s signature violet shade.
The welcoming Jamaa Birth Village and Equal Access Clinic reflects not only Kellman’s hope for future generations but also the Ferguson community’s dedication to ensuring the safety and celebration of all mothers and babies.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Jamaa Birth Village was created in partnership with Open Hand Studio. It should have said that the Equal Access Clinic was created in partnership with Open Hand Studio.