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Birthing Justice in Brooklyn through Cyphers and Listening Sessions

The Anarcha – Safer Childbirth Cities Project continues as we move closer to beginning our second year of the work. A highlight of the winter for us was the creation and sharing of the Brooklyn Birth Justice Cypher Series. A ‘cypher’ is a message written in a secret code. For us a cypher is coming together as a community to share our messages of hope, change and liberation through our own ways of communicating – ways that include words but also images, visions, dreams and music. Imagining the cypher was a process that we hope to document and amplify in places where the soil is fertile and the gardeners are plentiful. As part of our own work to ensure that we are reflective and integrated in our words, thoughts and actions, we are interviewing collaborators to build a living archive of our work and our process. We want to share with you all what some of the feedback of the collaborators was in creating the first session of this ongoing series.

We asked each other to reflect on the creation of the cypher series and how we show up in our work. Here, we share some of insights with you:

Sevonna (Black Women’s Blueprint):

There was a commitment, I think around like, just being in an organic process that was really well appreciated by the facilitators by us as co-creators….And I think that there was a commitment to actually see the cypher be a methodology to move us toward that. …I think it did what it was supposed to do, which was community saying what was needed and how it was needed….So to me, in that sense, in the sense of surrender, and spontaneity and creativity and birthing, and organic, iterative processes, it was very successful. I have like reflections about how our team, like moved in coordination or alignment with one another or where there might have been gaps, which to me feel very natural, because it would, it would have been our first, like, kind of event together. Right. So lessons, I just get a lot of lessons from watching and coordinating, facilitating and being with that, and I think there's a lot to acknowledge about where people were did show up and did contribute and participate. So feeling excited about that, and feeling like that's an alchemy and a recipe that gets to like be propelled forward, we actually get to keep leaning on the cypher infrastructure as a way of engaging community.


Indra (Elephant Circle):

One of the things that I'm bringing to the creation of the cypher series is holding the door open for more and more layers of creativity or not accepting the way things have been done. Being open to peeling back the layers of the onion in terms of how systems of oppression take so many forms and shapes and like, you know, so many places in our day. Even in this process, we've articulated our goals of designing something better, but at each juncture, we should make sure we're not taking into the next room with us some components for how oppression works, that we're not even aware of. So just letting there be layers of questioning, layers of do we have to do it that way? You know, does it have to be a meeting? Does it have to have an agenda? Does it have to have these sorts of outcomes? Does it you know, does it have to look like anything that we've seen before? One of the things that I've been able to do is just keep saying, ‘let's find out, it doesn't have to be and let's take the risk. Let's take the risk’.

Mimi: Where are the places that feel the riskiest?


I think things that take more time feel risky things that are relationship based things that are really where we don't know. We’re deeply in the question. We don't know how it's gonna go. It hasn't been done before…. I do want to say, deeply trusting the Black women who were in the process has been key… And that instinct, to, you know, make a different choice in the moment, that was resonant. So then, for me the feedback piece in terms of are we on the right path, and does something open up now, um, is, instead of having the, you know, like, handy spreadsheet with flowchart or, you know, ‘we have done this step, and now we have these outcomes,’ instead of that, we have, you know, just a very physical experience of, Yes. A very embodied feedback from multiple sources of powerful collective.


Indra: So would you say that there's something about the sacred, appreciating valuing, seeing recognizing sacredness that, that has some sort of antidote to white supremacy antidote to oppression?

Mimi (Devi Women- Midwife):

What’s missing in these very kind of sterile spaces is that they don't allow for our hearts and the ethereal ways we know things to enter into the space and our lineages and the things that we know deeply in our bodies… I think that's another tool of white supremacy to say that, that those are all not a valid form of knowledge… I don't believe that, and I don't see it in my practice, many who have had to survive in a violent world…we have veered so far away from the potential of this, not just event, but this experience of, of child bearing. Whatever that looks like for you, even to be in the presence of a new human being, as a grandparent or an auntie or in whatever way you get to show up for that should be sacred, it should be a very protected experience, not just for the family, but for that new being, you know, like they should be as cared for as much as we can. And not just protection, but loving protection, saying, like, we're not gonna let anything happen to you. And I know because I work in a system that I work in that system, because for many that's all their only access point to care.

Devi Women will continue to collect and share insight from this work through the newsletter and look forward to the creating, holding and offering of the next in the Brooklyn Birth Justice Cypher Series in 2022.


Safer Childbirth Cities was launched in 2018 by Merck for Mothers, Merck’s global initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die while giving life. The multi-year effort aims to foster community-led solutions that will help cities become safer, more equitable places to give birth. The second cohort is building on an inaugural cohort of ten community-based organizations working in coalition with unique collaborators to improve maternal health in their cities based on locally-identified needs and advanced evidence-informed interventions to increase maternal health equity.

If you are interested in joining the next cypher we hold - sign up here!

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