[Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith on right]
At bi3 we are fortunate to work with partners committed to health innovation every day. Each month, we share their stories and the positive impact they are making.
Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith: Power in Listening
Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith is the Director of Community Strategies for Cradle Cincinnati, Hamilton County’s collaborative to reduce infant mortality in our community. Through funding from bi3, Meredith and her team have worked with the community to ensure every child in Hamilton County will live to see his or her first birthday.
What led you to Cradle Cincinnati?
I was born and raised in the Cincinnati area. The sense of community and activism was instilled in me from an early age. My mother worked tirelessly fighting for civil rights. She taught me if I wanted change, then I needed to be part of the action.
I began my career teaching Black and women studies. But teaching is theory, and I realized I really wanted to be part of the movement, testing how those theories worked. I was already involved in community building on a personal level and coming to work for Cradle Cincinnati was an amazing opportunity to marry my passions in a professional way. It’s a synergy of who I am at every turn. I’m grateful every day to have the opportunity to build community with black women because community changes things—and positively impacts you no matter what space you are in.
What does innovation mean to you?
Innovation doesn’t always need to be complicated; rather it can be looking at solutions through a new lens. As a Black female, no one asked me why I thought things existed or what my ideas for effective change were. Through Cradle Cincinnati and our community of Black women called Queen’s Village, we’re changing this. We really take the time to ask people about their thoughts and find out what solutions they think will work. Then, we do it! That’s innovation—valuing marginalized people.
I would also say true innovation isn’t perfect. Some new things don’t work, so you try again. Change until you get what works and implement it. That’s how we create change.
How has the Coronavirus quarantine utilized innovation?
Queen’s Village is a supportive community gathering of powerful Black women who come together to relax, re-power and take care of each other and ourselves. Part of that is training people to be listeners. We’ve built celebration in the gathering, and yes, that certainly meant coming together in person. What we’ve found, though, is that the power is in the community itself, not the form it takes.
Our key tenet remains the same: Listening to our community to hear what they want and need.
This crisis was actually an opportunity to take some of our previously brainstormed ideas and put them into action. Based on the needs in our community, we’ve implemented some private virtual groups for those craving more intimacy, but this has also been an opportunity to reach even more people. We’re sharing virtual sessions with mental health experts and sharing content to help with daily tasks like keeping kids occupied at home and engaging them in the kitchen.
What has been your experience working with bi3?
We are certainly grateful for our funding support, but that’s not the full picture of our partnership with bi3. Often when we receive a grant, there is already built-in structure and measures that don’t always fit the work we are trying to do. The team at bi3 really trusted our expertise to do things differently, and we’ve been able to do so much in ways we couldn’t have if they hadn’t listened to that expertise. We are able to build an authentic community through bi3’s support, flexibility and response to need. I consider it a gift to be able to work with them.
What continues to drive your passion?
I am the mother of two Black girls and want to leave a better place for them. I work every day for them while honoring the commitment of my mother whose shoulders I stand on. I also am energized by the daily stories I hear of Black women and their families, and I am encouraged by the data that we are making a difference in infant mortality. I am honored to be doing this work and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
For information about Cradle Cincinnati and their project to reduce extreme preterm birth and infant mortality, fueled by bi3, click here.