Neighborhood Birth Center Emerging in Boston Liberatory Space

Jan 5, 2023 | Birth Center Stories

For years, movement leaders in Boston have longed for a physical space where they could co-locate their offices, deepen their relationships, and practice collaboration and cooperation to manifest a just and liberated future. From this yearning, the Boston Liberatory Space Council – and a home for Neighborhood Birth Center (NBC) – was born. 

Co-creating the future is exactly what Neighborhood Birth Center wants to do. In fact, as an emerging center not yet providing services, NBC was excited to re-imagine what community birth center development could look like. As they say in their mission:

“Our work is guided by the belief that the world we want to live in – from a healthy family to a healthy planet – requires the reimagination of healthcare and the equitable redistribution of capital. To birth a just and bright future, and change course on maternal health, birth centers, especially those led by people of color, must be invested in at scale. Neighborhood Birth Center is about shifting power to radically redesign healthcare in ways that improve experiences and outcomes for all.” 

Moving with this mission, NBC engaged in deep conversations at the Liberatory Space Council with four other organizations – City Life/Vida UrbanaResistCenter for Economic Democracy, and Movement Sustainability Commons – to concretize their vision for a Boston “Movement Commons.” In their vision, this Movement Commons would be a space for community gatherings, classes, meals, events, and meetings, in addition to shared work space and a private location for the birth center. 

After years of retreats and visioning sessions, the groups brought on a skilled and values-aligned urban planner to guide them in purchasing and cooperatively operating a complex real estate project – all while centering liberation and equity in an inherently capitalist real estate market. 

“It’s been a beautiful and complex process,” says NBC director Nashira Baril. “Our partner organizations have such a deep understanding of the connection between birth and economic justice. I learned so much from them, and felt their commitment to centering Neighborhood Birth Center in our vision.” “I told them,” she continues, “‘NBC is the partner with the highest and most complicated space needs, and the fewest resources to bring into the collective.’” Their powerful reply, says Nashira, was simply, “We got you. We got us.”  

In fall of 2021, the team began looking at properties, going on to hire a values-aligned project management team (Co-Everything). They also spent that year developing a shared governance model and a strategy for creating and sustaining a solidarity economy through the purchase and operation of shared space.

Then, in August 2022, the team learned about four adjacent parcels of land in the Nubian Square neighborhood of Roxbury, the heart of Black Boston. “This land really spoke to us,” says Nashira. “We always wanted the birth center and the movement commons nestled in community, not in a busy commercial district. Being in Nubian Square felt like realizing the dream of Black elders who have been wanting a birth center in Roxbury for 40 years. With the acquisition of this property, we are interrupting the development of high-priced condominiums that displace local residents. We are creating a birth sanctuary that honors the past stewards of the land and the community.”

Along with the visioning and planning for this shared home, NBC has been busy fundraising to contribute to the purchase of land, raising over $2 million in just 16 months, including a $50,000 Open Doors Initiative grant from BCE.  

With their collective funding, the team of organizations was able to put down a cash offer – that was accepted! Now, as they await closing in early February 2023, the team is holding conversations with neighbors and community members in Roxbury to ensure that their concerns are heard and their ideas are woven into the design of the space.

“Very few people in the US know what a birth center is,” reflects Nashira. “So they start to imagine it like a hospital with ambulances and sirens.” “We really need to work through the questions and fears,” she says. “We need to help people remember that midwives once caught all the babies in our communities, and that birth centers bring midwives back to us.” 

With rezoning and new construction on the horizon, much lies ahead in the journey toward the shared location, including launching a joint $10M capital campaign. The team is also engaged with the world-renowned nonprofit architecture firm MASS Design Group for the early design phase. “Our deep hope is to open in late 2024,” says Nashira. 

“We built an amazing team,” concludes Nashira. “We dove deeply into this radical experiment of beloved economy and creating a physical portal to the future. We hope that when people enter the space, they will say, “This is what the future, and the future of healthcare, feels like.”

Photo: October 22 NBC staff & board retreat with focus on beloved economy & guests from BCE and Orchid Capital Collective. Seated, elder midwife, Jo-Anna Rorie, shares how she has integrated her belief in abundance.