Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Rickeshia Williams
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With an extensive history of caring for minority populations during their birthing and postpartum periods, Rickeshia Williams is the Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Milk Like Mine Community Birthing and Breastfeeding Services Center in Battle Creek. Not only is she a birth and postpartum doula (more below on what that means), but she is also a certified lactation consultant, certified lactation specialist, and childbirth educator.
MILK LIKE MINE
Milk Like Mine was co-founded by Williams and her business partner, Stephanie Freeman in 2019. They knew about the birth disparities marginalized communities face, but they witnessed them first-hand during their work at a local health care facility as breastfeeding peer counselors.
Several global health organizations recommend breastfeeding babies. Breastfeeding is proven to help prevent infections, allergies, and other conditions in newborns. Some studies even suggest that breastfed babies have slightly higher IQs than formula-fed children. Additionally, breastfeeding comes with great benefits for the lactating person: studies show that parents who breastfeed are at a lower risk for breast cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and uterine and ovarian cancer.
Inspired to address these disparities and give local babies and lactating people the best possible start, Williams and Freeman put their heads together. Thus, Milk Like Mine was born. They began offering lactation services, as well as monthly coalition and mom-to-mom club meetings. During these meetings, they served dinner to pregnant and lactating Black families. They made it known that their assistance was available 24 hours a day to any family in need.
BIRTHING BELLIES LIKE MINE
From there, WIlliams was inspired to take her work a step further and become a doula. A doula (ancient Greek for “servant to women”) provides emotional, physical, and sometimes spiritual support to a birthing person during labor. Oftentimes the doula continues that support in the postpartum period.
In becoming a doula, Williams is able to work with lactating families, and also support them in their birth space. Thus, Birthing Bellies Like Mine, an expansion of Milk Like Mine, was born.
In Kalamazoo, babies of color are 4x more likely to die before their first birthday than their white neighbors. With local black and brown babies dying four times as often as white babies, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) doulas play an instrumental role in closing the infant mortality gap.
Birthing Bellies Like Mine offers an opportunity for birthing people to receive doula support- completely free of charge. By providing BIPOC birthing folks access to support, Williams is actively addressing racial disparities. She is effectively working to close the infant mortality gap in Southwest Michigan.
“For each birth, I feel like I gained family members. I now have lots of honorary brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews,” Williams shares.
EACH ONE TEACH ONE
Not only is Williams working to address racial disparities and close the infant mortality gap, but she is also working hard to provide educational access to anyone interested in birth work. Recognizing that birth work shouldn’t be a competitive field, Williams explains, “I feel this is important because we need more birth and lactation workers in our area- especially Women of Color. I also know that finances are a huge barrier for a lot of people in our community.”
This opportunity for educational access follows Milk Like Mine’s model of “Each One Teach One.” Through this model, coalition members and clients are encouraged to share their knowledge to further their impact.
Williams’ children are at the forefront of her mind in everything she does. “I hope to inspire them to find something they are good at and love doing, and do it,” Williams shares.
She goes on to explain, “I hope to open more doors for women like myself (and men as well!) to be able to unapologetically exist in spaces that other people may not think they belong in and flourish there!”
It is without a single doubt that Williams is delivering on that hope, one birth at a time.