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Amplifying Impact and Change Through Coalitions: An interview with Stephanie Crawford, Boston, MA

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

March 29, 2023

By Corin Bauman, Network Equity Coordinator, Vital Village Networks

Contributions and edits by Diana Rivera, Program Manager, Vital Village Networks


Motivated by her personal experience of having a son who was stillborn at 39 weeks, Stephanie Crawford started a nonprofit, Propa City Community Outreach, which had an initial focus of supporting mothers experiencing pregnancy and infant loss.


Propa City Community Outreach Logo
IMAGE CREDIT: Stephanie Crawford, Propa City Community Outreach

Since 2011, and the founding of her organization, Stephanie has become an advocate for maternal health in Boston and Massachusetts. She currently serves, among many other roles, as a commissioner on the Ellen Story Post-Partum commission on Postpartum Depression, a steering committee member for Massachusetts Mind the Gap Coalition, and as the lead doula for the Supportive Birth Collaborative project out of Beth Israel Hospital.


Vital Village Networks had the chance to talk with Stephanie about her work, and learn more about the importance of coalitions in making change in the critical community work of maternal health.


AMPLIFYING IMPACT

Coalitions have the ability to bring together different people, organizations and leaders that are all passionate about a topic. They also provide a space for coordinated and collective action to happen. Coalitions, Stephanie highlighted, have the power to amplify impact and change through:

  • coordinated efforts on a shared goal,

  • connecting different networks which were previous isolated or disconnected, and

  • utilizing the different skills brought together in such community collaboratives.


With complex topics like maternal health, Stephanie explains, “there are so many different aspects of it, and if they can be addressed in some way, our community, and the birthing people in our community, can thrive and succeed, and feel success.”


Finding results, even small ones, Stephanie shares is the motivation for her continued involvement in this work. “We set a goal and reach it, whether it be advocacy that goes out, or together we are creating a bill…it always feels like a meeting of the minds.” For example, the Massachusetts Mind the Gap Coalition that Stephanie is a part of has come together to support Massachusetts Moms Matter Act (H.1984/S.1261), “a bill establishing two grant programs to expand and diversify the perinatal mental health workforce and invest in community programs that support the mental health and well-being of birthing people and other new parents” (Mass PPD Fund, 2023). Coalition work provides a space to not only drive forward results, but a space for sharing leadership and co-designing the work of the group. Stephanie shares, “I don’t want to be part of something where someone is just talking at me, and telling me what is going to happen, but instead working together because we all have different thoughts.”


DECISION MAKING IN COALITIONS

Merging different thoughts, and making decisions as a collective can be challenging. Stephanie finds in her experience, coalitions get to decisions and results through a similar practice she employs in her Kindergarten classroom, Thinking and Feedback an activity from Focus on K2 curriculum. In this exercise, she explains, a student is invited to bring something to the circle and share it. Others in the classroom get to give their thoughts and comments, and then the person sharing gets to respond to correct, clarify, or confirm. There is then a period of asking questions and dialogue, and the person sharing leaves with suggestions for expansion or improvement. Laughing, Stephanie shares, “that is what coalition work looks like…People come together about something that they are passionate about, initial thoughts are shared, and then there is a sort of pruning of thoughts.” Through this work, coalition members are asking questions, having dialogue, and being part of healthy debate to then give suggestions on what can be done better, or sometimes suggestions for action. Coalitions can stay grounded by remembering the goal is always to see an outcome. “Even though there may be a really big goal, there are tiny outcomes along the way,” Stephanie explains, that can direct the group’s collective decision-making.


THE VALUE OF COALITIONS

Through all of her work with the coalitions, Stephanie finds pride in the unity of the coalition members most. “Bills are getting written and close to being passed…advocacy work is going out…but honestly to me, the unity of the providers and professionals, that is what I am most proud of. I love seeing everyone coming together, and then pulling more people in. I was a person 12 years ago who was looking around asking, ‘What is there for me? Where can I go?’” When asked how her involvement has impacted her leadership, she said, “I found my voice for sure.”


Coming back to her personal experience, Stephanie shared that through telling the story of her son’s stillbirth, she realized this was happening to other people, but it wasn’t being talked about, especially in communities of color. She wanted to create an organization that supported these mothers and families. Eventually she expanded this work to advocating for birthing families and their rights – in neighborhoods and through personal relationships, in hospitals and medical systems, and in statehouses and legislations.



IMAGE CREDIT: Stephanie Crawford, Propa City Community Outreach

GETTING INVOLVED

When asked about advice for others interested in getting involved in maternal health advocacy, Stephanie said “just do it. Look around for different organizations, for what you are passionate about, and if you see it, do it.” Involvement can look like attending an upcoming event, hearing other people’s stories, and meeting people who share similar passions. Stephanie shared that she has learned from others by watching how they advocated for their passions, and being connected with other leaders helped her expand her own skills. “Getting connected with other people and organizations is the best thing to do.”


If you are interested in getting involved in maternal health coalition work in Boston, Massachusetts, and even nationally, check out the following groups:


MORE ABOUT STEPHANIE CRAWFORD

Stephanie is a Boston Public School Early Childhood teacher with a masters from Lesley University in Moderate Disabilities. She is currently in the Early Childhood Leadership, Policy & Finance doctoral program at UMASS Boston. Stephanie is the owner of Belle Joie Doula services and is an active community organizer, trainer, advocate and consultant.


Stephanie founded the non-profit Propa City Community Outreach in 2011 to assist mothers impacted by pregnancy loss along with the people in their lives that desired to support them. She founded the organization after her son Simeon Jelani was stillborn at 39 weeks gestation on February 7, 2011. She named the Grief Support program Team Simeon in honor of her son and gave it the tagline “Because He STILL was BORN”. The success of this initiative led to its expansion to include people of all ages being trained to advocate for positive healing in themselves and in their communities.

Stephanie is the mother of baby angel Simeon and her rainbow baby boy Amani. She is the godmother to 19 beautiful children, a daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She has made it her mission to be a light to souls who feel lost using the purpose and skills that God has given her.

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