Black-Led Community Birth Center Coming to Durham, North Carolina

Oct 5, 2022 | Birth Center Stories

Tina Braimah, CNM, CPM, the founder of Sankofa Birth and Women’s Care, has earned the trust and respect of birthing people and institutions in North Carolina for her work providing safe and accessible home birth. In 2021, she was named Midwife of the Year by the Carolina Nurse’s League. Now, as Braimah moves toward opening a community birth center, trust and respect in Sankofa continues to flow.

In Durham, where Sankofa is located, the infant mortality rate for African-American versus white infants is twice the state’s average, meaning it is twice as dangerous to be born a Black baby in Durham. Nonetheless, Sankofa has demonstrated their effectiveness with 0% babies born preterm, a less than 1% cesarean rate, a 100% breastfeeding rate at initiation and a 99% rate at 6 weeks. The majority of people birthing with Sankofa are Black, and more than a quarter receive Medicaid. Braimah is clear: “We catch 100 percent of all complications before they become a threat to the mother and baby.”

Braimah launched Sankofa in 2017, providing care to birthing people in their homes. When COVID hit, the demand for out of hospital births grew, along with challenges for midwives entering homes. That’s when Braimah began offering birthing people the option to birth in a home away from their own. “We did this for two and a half years,” says Braimah, “filling an unmet need in the community.” When the number of births they assisted grew from 20 to 50 per year, Braimah and the Sankofa team knew they’d need to put a longer term plan in place. “I was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 6 years,” Braimah recalls. “I thought, how can I do this without facing complete burnout? That’s when we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could start a birth center?’”

As fate would have it, in May 2022, a local birth center announced that they would no longer be doing births. Braimah knew it was the right time, and with support from a former client, began planning and fundraising. When Braimah and her team came up with a target of $500k needed to open the center, the amount felt astronomical. “Then I remembered Leseliey Welch at BCE encouraging us to practice abundance and aim for $10 million. I thought, well, you can’t get more abundant than that!” Now that they’ve moved into the research and development phase of the project, the Sankofa team is projecting a budget of $4 million. In just two months, Sankofa garnered $75k in “no strings attached” funds from private local foundations.

With a team in place and strong pro bono legal support, the future community birth center began to take shape. “I needed a strong team,” says Braimah, “because, as a midwife, I had little business background and no clout with local policymakers.”

Now, the Sankofa team is on its way toward its vision of a community birth and wellness center that provides birth center care, open access prenatal and postpartum care for people who want the midwifery model of care but not an out of hospital birth, and wellness care including contraceptive and gender affirming care. “Reclamation is a core component,” says Braimah, through their BIPOC-focused midwifery training that re-centers BIPOC wisdom and leadership in birthing.

“Just being part of BCE has been incredible,” says Braimah, who has received two small Capital Circle grants from BCE. “Being in a group of people who have already done what I’m trying to do has been critical. I’ve learned things that I wouldn’t even have known to ask about.”

Photo: Tina Braimah