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The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc. (BHCW) developed the Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings Project (MHBP) in March 1998 as part of the Healthy Start Initiative Phase II. The overall goal of MHBP is to decrease infant mortality and to improve perinatal outcomes in the MHBP Project Area and assist in the development of collective impact in the City of Milwaukee as a whole. The MHBP model uses the strengths of the various stakeholders in the community to form a partnership designed to maximize the skills and expertise of each. The targeted population was African American women of childbearing age, their infants and family who reside in seven zip codes in the central city of Milwaukee. The targeted zip codes were 53206, 53208, 53209, 53210, 53212, 53216 and 53218. These zip codes are located in the most economically depressed and racially segregated of the city. The stakeholders include participants and community residents; local and state health departments especially Title V; Medical College of Wisconsin; the new Zilber School of Public Health; Health Care systems; Federally Qualified Community health centers and homeless projects; community based organizations, such as the NAACP and the Urban League, fatherhood programs, job development agencies and poverty agencies.
MHBP incorporated principles of life course, social determinants, resiliency and cultural dynamics, community empowerment and inclusion to develop a coordinated system of services for Milwaukee’s most at-risk pregnant and interconceptional women, their infants and families. MHBP is a unique collaboration that has continued the success it achieved in its first phase of operation. MHBP identified pregnant women and got them into early and consistent prenatal care, improved the birth outcomes of high-risk infants, enhanced the knowledge of consumers, as well as developed their leadership role in health policy issues at both the local and state level. Prior to 2006, MHBP was the only project that specifically targeted African American infant mortality reduction. Since that time, many organizations have stepped up to address the issue. For the last three years, MHBP played a leadership role in the LIHF Project. The project, funded by the University -Wisconsin Medical School, produced a Community Action Plan (CAP) that for once had significant targeted population leadership in decision-making. MHBP uses this document as the blueprint to infant mortality reduction. The MHBP Project Director served as one of the initial Co-Chairs of the project and then provided technical support to the LIHF African American Task Force whose role was to vet all strategies that from by three domain task forces and decided which ones would be placed in the final project. The African American Task Force ultimately placed on the LIHF Steering Committee to ensure leadership level input. MHBP developed a successful consortium model that has been has been replicated in other agencies in Milwaukee and in other cities. The model started by believing in the human agency of the clients that it serves. Given that principle, clients served in leadership roles in the Consortium and other local projects. Agencies, both public and private would ask to present information and media products to the Consortium to get their input. The met with legislators and other elected officials to express their community concerns. Unfortunately, too many organizations give lip service to enhancing client’s abilities, but are uncomfortable giving up power. This was not the case with the MHBP Consortium. The outcomes of these activities were seen in client’s interactions, with providers, child welfare staff and their children’ schools. They were able advocate for themselves and for their families. One of the women who unfairly lost five of her children to the child welfare system before she was working with MHBP has been able to keep two of her children. She is an advocate now for other mothers and is a member of the BHCW Board of Directors.