Pregnancy and delivery are usually joyous occasions, but sometimes those occurrences can be fraught with trepidation and isolation, so my curiosity was definitely on high alert after receiving an invitation to attend a Community Baby Shower in Brooklyn on August 29, 2015.
My tortuous journey from the Bronx ended at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center* – opposite Herbert Von King Park on a hot steamy Saturday afternoon just as the event was coming to a close, but, I was nevertheless welcomed to the cool interior by Joy Grey-Morris and Jazz Fenton two of the main organizers, who, along with Andrea “Sistah Cuchy” Brathwaite, form part of the Women’s Healing Circle, one of the programs based at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center. The Healing Circle came up with the concept of hosting a community baby shower to celebrate expectant and new mothers as a way of reaching out to those lacking in resources.
The event was well attended, with 25 participants from the Tristate area, who were treated to presentations on nutrition, home safety, healthy relationships and breastfeeding. A speaker from The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) also outlined the availability of services on offer from them. Babies "R" Us provided sponsorship by ensuring that each participant received a gift bag, in addition to those 30 bags lovingly prepared by the Women’s Circle[JG2] containing pampers, bottles, sleepers, bath products and; where the mothers knew the gender; gender-specific items were included. In addition, tables with neatly arranged gently used baby and toddler items were on display for the mothers to help themselves. A crib, donated by the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene - Bureau of Maternal, Infant & Reproductive Health was raffled off. Excitement was high in both participants and organizers as the winner was announced and the crib was gratefully received by a very appreciative young mother.
The majority of participants came from the Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center who registered 17 women, while others heard about the event through a variety of women’s organizations. The women were diverse in their circumstances, one woman accompanied her two young daughters, both of whom were pregnant, two women came with their partners, the men attentively receiving all that was on offer and giving very positive feedback. Another woman was homeless, but left the event, not just with several telephone numbers of women from the Women’s Circle, but also an assurance that there was a community of women who cared about her wellbeing and were willing to follow up with her to ensure that she had a safe place to sleep.
A phrase that I heard repeated several times, was “the look on the women’s faces”, as an indication of their appreciation at the efforts made on their behalf, ‘they felt loved and cherished and grateful that someone had taken the time to do something for them’. Many of these women may not have had the resources to celebrate and welcome the new life they were about to usher into the world, but the Women’s Circle stepped up to the plate and created a non-judgmental, safe haven (even if only for one day) where women dressed up in their finery and celebrated their life-giving selves.
The event was so successful that plans are afoot to take the concept to different locations in New York City, in particular, the next event may take place in Manhattan at City Care Inc., where Jazz Fenton has ties.
The Women’s Healing Circle formed about 20 years ago is the brainchild of the woman known to all as Sistah Cuchy, who felt the need to create a movement of women supporting women in Brooklyn. Now housed at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center* in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, all of the programs and initiatives are aimed at educating and supporting women. Whether it’s a facial, massage, or a meal; it might be turning on some music and stomping your feet; a space has been created for women to go where they could just let their hair down, or just weep and know that it’s not going anyplace else, or where they can just share something or learn something, because every program is about education, every bit of it. Or it could just simply be a space for meditation, a place to be quiet. All of this and so much more can be found within that Healing Circle.
When I asked Sistah Cuchy what message she would like to give readers about the community baby shower and the work of the Women’s Circle, she replied without hesitation
“It really takes a village and that’s the message that we sent out today, a strong message that we can’t do it alone. Today’s event was to show our young women that there are people who care about them enough to celebrate them and their pending progeny with a baby shower. For those women who attended today, even if they have no or minimal support, their baby will be coming into the world with the basic amenities. A lot of people in our community came out, the women came out, shopped, packed, cooked, prepared and really helped make the event so wonderful. We came out today to show that black people do positive things. Remember one person makes a start, but it is several joining in that make a circle. We are thankful for Magnolia, because one woman had a vision about having this center and it has become a stable community center. We do a lot of work here; we have environmental and community based programs, we have a wonderful board that really helps a lot.
Today, I felt like I was pregnant and it was my shower. I am very joyful.
Can you imagine some of these women walking in here with no support! A woman walking in saying she is in a shelter, a woman walking in saying she is HIV, a woman who has nowhere to sleep tonight, she had to take the train with her gift bag. The event was more than a baby shower, it was a definite outreach and we will be following up on all our ladies to ensure that they know they have our support”.
Sylvia Wiley, a member of the Women’s Circle was quietly clearing up, at the end of the event, was acknowledged as being one of the stalwarts who along with others played an integral role in the success of the day. When asked her thoughts on the event, her quiet and proud response was that the day had been fabulous; she enjoyed herself watching other mothers enjoying themselves. The phrase has been used many times before in many different contexts, but Sylvia Wiley really summed it up for today’s event – “I think it takes a village to raise a child, we need to go back to that – we need to become our sisters’ keepers, our brothers’ keepers, we need to look out for each other. It is a necessity”.
* The Magnolia Tree Earth Center, located at 677 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn is
now a historic landmark, is an institution and center for environmental preservation and community involvement consisting of three Brooklyn Brownstones which anchor a 100 year-old Magnolia tree.