Spotlight: Health Equity is a Social Justice Issue

Dr. Sharetta Remikie

As a college sophomore, Dr. Sharetta Remikie experienced an unplanned pregnancy. She was, as she says, "that statistic that I know so much about: black, single, unwed, teen, and pretty much still living in poverty. I lived in denial and was so afraid that I did not seek prenatal care until 28 weeks." 

During her final exams, she fainted in the classroom, was rushed to the hospital, highly anemic, and with very low blood pressure. But she survived, and delivered a healthy son who is now 32 years old, has a master's degree, and is happily married. "Going through that experience inspired me to want to help young girls, like I was, be successful." She returned to school for a graduate degree and continued working to support young women to be successful. Throughout her career, she always strives to be a role model instead of the supervisor; to be motivating, inspiring, and empowering women to achieve their potential by giving them a voice and the capacity to be able to support their families.

Today, as director of Maternal Child Health at March of Dimes-Southeast Florida Region (Broward County), Sharetta Remikie, EdD, draws from her lived experience to make sure that marginalized women have happy and healthy pregnancies, as well as healthy birth outcomes. She wants to empower people and, in her words, "magnify their narrative as a tool for building individual and community capacity." She achieves this through storytelling, teaching, facilitating, mentoring, and coaching. Dr. Remikie's pursuit for equity fuels her journey as a national trainer and motivational speaker on race, diversity and women issues. Addressing racism is central in her presentations because of the impact it has on equity. She added, with a chuckle, that if you don't want to hear about racism and structural inequality, then you may not want to invite her to speak at your conference. She was inducted into the Broward County Women's Hall of Fame in 2016 and is a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

Dr. Remikie embodies the values that WHAMglobal works to advance every day. She noted, "such a network is an awesome awareness and exposure to solving several issues impacting women; the collective power of coming together with one voice."

Gatekeepers: Trusted community members key to reducing racial disparities in birth outcomes

To tackle health inequity, Dr. Remikie leads statewide efforts to reduce disparities in birth outcomes, develops and implements evidence-based programming to reduce preterm births, and facilitates collaborative partnerships. One of those collaborative partnerships about which she is most passionate is the Gatekeepers Addressing Prematurity (GAP) Birth Equity Workgroup. GAP launched in November 2018 and their objective is to build capacity among nontraditional partners in health care, such as fraternities, sororities, civic organizations, and faith-based organizations.

The idea is to find "gatekeepers" in these communities — trusted individuals who historically understand their communities and its strengths and weaknesses — to identify appropriate, community-based solutions. Dr. Remikie passionately believes that the entire community must play a role in reducing racial disparities in birth outcomes.

The Divine Nine
When Dr. Remikie arrived at the March of Dimes, she realized that this renowned national giant in the nonprofit arena had a strong working relationship with traditionally African-American fraternities and sororities, known as the Divine Nine. March of Dimes and the Divine Nine work together to raise funds for initiatives to reduce preterm births. She saw an opportunity to use this established network and their connections in the community to "engage them and give them a voice and an opportunity to be involved in the conversation — not only about the issues but also be part of the solutions."

Challenges and rewards as a black leader

It has been frustrating for her, not only as a woman professional but as a black woman professional. She has worked tirelessly to achieve empathy for the cause, and create a sense of urgency in identifying birth equity as a priority. "Sometimes it is hard being the only voice in the room with a lived experience, but it is at the same time rewarding." She added, "it is only now that we get a lot of attention because famous people are telling the stories — the same stories that were told over 30 years ago, earlier in my career."

'Empowering women' takes many forms. "I achieve empowerment, Dr. Remikie said, by helping others articulate and navigate their stories and experiences. I provide the platforms for their voices to be heard."

Behind every leader are inspirational giants

Dr. Remikie points to three wonderful people to whom she is particularly grateful. Germain Smith-Baugh, EdD, CEO, and President of the Urban League of Broward County, showed her how an advanced degree amplifies your voice and adds validity to your cause, and influenced her to pursue a PhD. In addition, two longtime colleagues, Estrellita "Lo" Berry, and Deborah Austin, PhD., of REACHUP, Inc. in Tampa, Florida, showed her how to work effectively on behalf of the community.

Black lives matter, even from the womb
Black moms and babies are still dying at rates higher than others in this day and age. "What really bothers me and keeps me raising my voice is that with all the medical advances we have, and all the 'opportunity to access' we are supposed to have, there are certain moms and babies who still do not have the same opportunity as others." Dr. Remikie wants her greatest legacy to be that she not only supported "Black Lives Matter," but that she provided solutions to ensure that "Black Lives Matter, even from the womb. What an achievement it would be when no woman or baby dies as a result of a pregnancy or childbirth experience!"

 This Forum is an initiative of the Women's Health Activist Movement Global (WHAMglobal), a supporting organization of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in Pittsburgh. WHAMglobal is committed to profiling members of WHAMglobal, the International Women's Forum (IWF) special interest group on health care, and Women of Impact for Healthcare. Through the Spotlight Forum, we will share members' inspiring stories and accomplishments, identify common interests, and form new partnerships that help make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, and more compassionate.

Questions? Ideas? Want to share your story?

Contact Hanifa Nakiryowa, Global Health Associate: nakiryowa@JHF.org

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Sunday, April 21, 2019