By Mrinal Gokhale
A few weeks ago, the United Way announced the first ever HaRUNbee 5K Run/Walk for Healthy Birth Outcomes.
It will take place on Saturday, August 6 in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood during the Bronzeville Week festival. Proceeds will benefit the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF).
Led by United Way of Milwaukee & Greater Waukesha County, Milwaukee LIHF’s mission is to eliminate racial disparities to ensure more babies reach their first birthday.
The 2015 City of Milwaukee Health Department Female Infant Mortality Report (FIMR) showed that African American babies in Milwaukee died three times faster than their Caucasian counterparts. The 2013 FIMR stated that the 53212 zip code, which is predominantly African American and includes the Harambee neighborhood, has Milwaukee’s second highest infant mortality rate.
The inspiration behind HaRUNbee began after a Milwaukee woman named Tonda Thompson experienced a devastating tragedy. On May 23, 2013, Thompson gave birth to her son Terrell. After 17 hours of labor, little did she know, motherhood would end for her the next morning.
“My son suffered complications due to change of events in labor and delivery, and after holding him for just 10 minutes, I was told he wouldn’t make it,” Thompson said.
Following the unexpected passing of her son, Thompson experienced postpartum depression, and her family was affected as well. She was eventually inspired to use her story and make a difference.
“I started a support group called Terrell’s Corner in 2014, because I know so many African American women who lost a child between one day to one year old.”
Unfortunately, her observation was statistically accurate. Wanda Montgomery, co-chair of Milwaukee LIHF, said that although Wisconsin has a lower infant mortality rate compared to some other states, women of color don’t fare so well.
“Beloit, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine account for 90 percent of African American birth rates in Wisconsin.
In Milwaukee, babies die by their first birthday at a higher rate than all but six of the nation’s 53 largest cities,” said Montgomery.
She attributes stressful pregnancies as a possible reason behind these statistics.
“Chronic stress brought on by factors like unemployment, food and housing insecurities may cause premature births, which account for 60 percent of infant deaths,” Montgomery said.
She added that Milwaukee LIHF has increased healthcare and public policy access to address these disparities.
Thompson joined Public Allies in 2014 after the death of her newborn child. Public Allies is a nonprofit Americorps program that focuses on public service. She was placed with United Way to work with the Milwaukee LIHF program. Though originally hired as a videographer and photographer, Thompson earned her Community Health Worker Certification and educated women on infant mortality at events such as Bronzeville’s Week and Heal the Hood. She soon developed the idea to bring HaRUNbee to the neighborhood she once lived in.
Having worked as a professional runway model prior to having a baby, Thompson’s life changed unexpectedly after joining Public Allies. After finishing 10 months of service, she recently graduatedPublic Allies and is currently studying political science in college.
“When I began with Public Allies, I didn’t have much, but then I found out I was a fighter and a voice for people,” Thompson said.
HaRUNbee is registered through the U.S. Track and Field Association to take place for the next 10 years.
Alderwoman Milele Coggs was the primary sponsor behind HaRUNbee, and the Milwaukee Common Council approved the 5K on July 6 to take place during Bronzeville Week each year.
HaRUNbee begins and ends at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and North Ave. In-person registration begins at 9 a.m. and the event begins at 10 a.m.
Visit unitedwaygmwc.org/HaRUNbee for registration and other information.