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Hakima Payne

Uzazi Village CEO Fosters Transformative Justice in Maternal & Infant Health


Problems are just opportunities in work clothes. For Hakima Payne, CEO and Founder of Uzazi Village, the problem is a hell of a motivator; the opportunity is paramount, and the community is ready to get to work.

The opportunity is crisp and candid for Payne and Uzazi Village to improve health outcomes amongst Black and Brown childbearing families. The problem stirs an emotional response from Payne, as it should for the entire community. “My background is in labor and delivery nursing. I was pretty unhappy with what I witnessed in the hospital setting and surprised to find birthing women, especially those of color, grievously mistreated,” Payne said. “I saw so much systemic racism embedded in the health care system that heavily impacted families of color.”

This exposure compelled Payne to step out of the system and create Uzazi Village and what she calls an ‘adjacent system.’ “With an adjacent health care system, Black and Brown families can step out from oppressive, abusive, and traumatic systems and get supportive care in a safe space,” Payne said.

At its most basic, this service is a well-organized and supported doula network. The doula role is a core belief of the organization because it is crucial in guiding families through childbirth. “These folks are lay professionals, not health care providers, and they focus on supporting childbearing families physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. They educate them during the pregnancy, advocate for them during birth, and support them through the postpartum period,” Payne explained.

The organization also respects the cultural aspect, a crucial difference between doula care and the hospital system. “We pride ourselves in providing culturally congruent care. We match our clients, and our staff understands the cultural bearings and the ways of being of the clients we serve,” Payne said. The effort does not stop at the walls of Uzazi Village, but the healthcare systems are not generally receptive to change. “We work to transform the healthcare system so that they are anti-racist and culturally congruent in their approach, but we unfortunately meet a lot of resistance in that work. They talk a better game, but we don’t see them behave any better,” Payne said.

Beyond doula care, Payne’s organization offers a wide range of supportive services, such as midwives, herbalists, therapists, nutrition services, lactation services, and coming soon dentistry. This holistic care model has been a flywheel for the Uzazi Village mission. “Maybe 80 or 90% of our current staff came to us as clients, students, interns, or course attendees,” Payne said. “And we promote them from within, so current directors or executive management started off as clients or students.” From top to bottom, Uzazi Village never loses sight of the patient experience and perspective.

Uzazi Village and Payne are making a difference. In 2022, the non-profit published a 10-year report of doula and care data and reported many improvements, such as a decrease in premature deliveries, an increase in birth rates, a decrease in perinatal mood disorders, and a significant increase in breastfeeding rates. “Candidly, Kansas City and the state of Missouri is abysmal for Black people. There is marginalization, racism, and segregation in most healthcare systems, and we rank near the bottom of the country for Black maternal and infant deaths. If we can show improvement here, we can show the rest of the country how to improve outcomes for our communities of color,” Payne said.

The opportunity is clear: improve the lives of Black and Brown families, parents, and babies and give them a chance to thrive adjacent to health systems that have a responsibility to improve. Payne and Uzazi Village are up for this challenge and will keep fighting until that opportunity is realized.


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