Spotlight on High Infant Mortality Rate; Spike Lee's Wife Joins a Community Event to Raise Awareness

Article excerpt


Organizers of Saturday's Family Reunion for Our Future at Edward Waters College used the catchphrase "make a noise, make a difference," but the loudest voice there didn't make a sound.

Seventy-five empty strollers were pushed down Kings Road through the middle of campus, signifying the 75 African-American infants who died in Jacksonville last year. That's more than half the total of 130 babies who died in Jacksonville before their first birthday.

The reunion, including a health fair and a panel discussion, was held to sound the alarm about Jacksonville's high infant mortality rate. At 13 deaths for every 1,000 live births, the city ranks high in a nation that already has higher rates than many other countries, said Claudine Pannell of the Black Infant Health Community Council of Duval County, one of the event organizers.

"Our babies are us, and if our babies are dying, then that says to me we all are really dying in our community," Pannell said. "It's not just a black issue, it's a communitywide issue and a national issue."

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health launched a 35-minute documentary this month to raise awareness about infant mortality. The film was produced by Tonya Lewis Lee, who was at Edward Waters on Saturday to share it and sign copies of the children's book she co-wrote with her husband, filmmaker Spike Lee.

"Think about the decision you make," Lewis Lee told the several hundred people who showed up. "It does make a difference ... and we can bring these infant mortality rates down."

Lewis Lee, the national spokeswoman for "A Healthy Baby Begins With You," said she got involved with the cause of infant mortality nearly three years ago because she considers it indicative of a nation's health.

"We are a sick nation," she said. "We are losing tremendous resources, and we're going to pay the price, I believe, sooner than later."

Lewis Lee said the issue is complicated by economics, racism and education, and America's cultural diversity has made agreement on a solution more difficult. …


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