Founded by Latham Thomas, Mama Glow is a leading Black and brown maternal health and education platform. Mama Glow held their annual Doula Expo this year at the Hudson Yards in New York with Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Tatyana Ali as the Host. The curated May 20-21 weekend brought together over 1,000 Doulas and included a range of panels, keynote guest speakers and vendors committed to supporting mothers, Doulas and birthing people along the childbearing continuum.

This year, the first-of-its-kind festival’s theme, “Birth to the Future,” focused on the nuances and possibilities for reproductive and birth equity in America. Mama Glow’s global community has over 2,500 members, spread nationwide and on six continents, committed to bringing back joy to Black childbearing.

Thomas expressed the impact of the Doula Expo.

“The Doula Expo is a celebration of what is possible. We are shaping a future where every birthing individual receives the support and care they deserve. The festival affirms our commitment to amplifying voices, championing reproductive justice and fostering a community of leaders,” Thomas said about the influence of the expo.

The main stage programming featured inspiring speakers who addressed critical issues in maternal health. Reverend Kimberly Council, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Brooklyn Neighborhood Health, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Dr. Zahira McNatt, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Brooklyn Neighborhood Health in the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness and Mahmee’s Medical Director, Dr. Amanda Williams, each expanded on the many approaches to advance maternal health efficiently.

Tatyana Ali and Charles Johnson from 4Kira4Moms spoke about the need for doulas, paternal involvement and birthing experiences. In 2020, Ali wrote an op-ed for Essence titled “Birthright” on the realities of Black maternity and how it shaped her bearing her son.

“The birth of my first son, three years ago, went completely off script. For reasons that I have come to know are pretty much textbook, my low-risk pregnancy resulted in extremely questionable actions on the part of those attending and an emergency C-section. My labor was harried, filled with people I didn’t know screaming at me,” she wrote.

“My doula, concerned with her status at the hospital, who knew I wanted a natural birth, persistently advised me to take an epidural. I agreed, and the epidural left me unable to move. One doctor slammed his forearm on top of my belly in order to force my son down as though I were a tube of toothpaste,” she detailed.

When asked if her financial status can change the outcome or improve care, she expressed how we as a society must recognize that money and economic status do not improve the treatment that Black and brown women at the table receive.

“Because of that trauma, he was in the NICU for several days,” she said. “Your financial status, education level, None of those things matter. The only thing that matters and determines the outcomes is race… but I want us to think about that; there’s something in society and our culture that if you have more money, you deserve better treatment.”

That’s not true; we all deserve care,” she said.

Johnson moderated the discussion on Doula Dads and the importance of paternal integration in childbearing. Driven by a passion for systemic change after the loss of his wife, Kira — who passed away following the birth of their second child — Johnson hopes to one-day fund doula care for every family in need.

“I’m determined to end the maternal mortality process in five years,” Johnson said. “My goal is to figure out how we can end this, so, we can go on to fix other things in our community. I believe we can do it. It’s just going to take us applying pressure to make sure that these things, these systems are prioritized and being intentional about calling out structural racism and failures and systems. We look to countries all over the world that are doing more with way less. It shows us, there’s no excuse. It’s just about whether or not they’re going to prioritize the same for us,” he added.