Doni Miller Talks About Infant Deaths, Racism and Our Community

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – the death of a baby. But it’s a reality many parents face in Ohio, which ranks 47th in the country for infant mortality. To help shed light on this issue, Bridges with Doni Miller on 13 ABC is airing a series of shows dedicated to the topic of infant mortality. Miller, who is also the chief executive officer of Neighborhood Health Association, answers some questions about significance of this problem.


Q: Why was it important for you to do a series of Bridges programs on infant mortality?

A: When you take a look at the status of Ohio relative to the rest of the country when it comes to this issue, you can’t help but be totally and utterly stunned. There is this almost visceral response that requires you to do something. Even if you don’t know what that something is, you know that it is imperative that we do better. How can we, with all of the resources available to us, be 47th in the nation when it comes to managing this issue?

While all infant death is tragic, how can we tolerate the reality that black babies are twice more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies? It makes me want to scream. It’s worse than duplicitous for those of us who consider ourselves community activists, deeply concerned about the quality of life of others, to do nothing.

However, while the numbers are overwhelming, the great thing is that the approach to this crisis is being informed by some really smart and outspoken people, determined to cause change. I wanted Bridges to have some role in that conversation. The show is intended as a vehicle for placing critical social issues like this one in front of our community; that’s why I really enjoy and consider it such a privilege to be host of the show.

Q: Do you have any personal experience with any of the issues that are being addressed by the local and state infant mortality initiatives?

A: I am one of those really lucky Americans who have always had access to those things that have allowed me to make my life workable. For the most part, I’ve been able to avoid the issues that you find most common when addressing the complexities of infant mortality and morbidity.

Both my parents are college educated; my dad was the first black principal of a high school in Louisville, Miss.; that’s where I was born. My family was mostly lower middle class and while my mother sometimes speaks of life being tough while we were growing up, frankly I don’t remember any of those things. My neighborhoods were always solid, mostly black, crime-free and just plain fun places to be as a kid. There was this real sense of community that unfortunately I don’t see any more.

The stress of racism may be a reason why the risk of infant mortality is higher among babies of black mothers.

I do remember the first time I was called the “N” word by someone white, though. The circumstances don’t really matter but I can tell you that it was a situation wherein I was winning and that made my counterpart unhappy. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to say something so ugly just because at that moment she felt inadequate. I was also really angry because we weren’t in a place that would allow me what I considered at the time to have a proper response.

I remember feeling that no matter what I did or how good I was, someone who didn’t look like me would always think of me as “less than.” That was until I realized how silly and self-destructive it was for me to absorb someone else’s idiocy into my spirit or to allow myself to be defined by another’s narcissism and insecurities. I can’t say that this was my first encounter with racism but it is the one I most remember.

There is this provocative discussion about the role of racism in the mortality/morbidity rate among professional black women. It seems that even after factoring for all other indicators, poverty, health care, etc., well educated, professional black women have a higher rate of infant mortality/morbidity than white women who haven’t graduated from high school. The stress of racism is under consideration as a possible cause. I find this to be perhaps the most powerful data of any presented in this discussion.

I hope that in my lifetime, we come to realize that the result of any social paradigm in which racism exists or where there is social policy which results in disparate impact, there will always have dismal and repressive outcomes like those we see in infant mortality/morbidity, violence and poverty.

>> Read more about the causes of infant mortality in Ohio.

Q: In your perspective, what impact has infant mortality had in our community?

A: How do you determine the impact of the taking of a life from a community? I just know that when you lose anyone whose life could have been spared but wasn’t because the intervention wasn’t quick or smart enough, it’s worse than devastating.

The response to the loss of children is always more fervent for the obvious reasons. But when you take a look at the impact of this issue on the psyche of a community, it can only be seen as another statement of the lack of value held by those who have for those who have little.

I don’t mean to say that there is no room for responsibility of self within this matter; that most certainly is not the case. Everyone has the responsibility to do the best they can within the circumstances of their lives, but what happens when your best still results in the loss of children from your community? How does that community ever really move forward? Do those families ever really recover? I don’t know, but my best guess is not very well.

Q: What’s the one thing you think the community really needs to know about the issue of infant mortality?

A: The issue appears to be too big to get our arms around but it’s not. We created this issue and we can resolve it. We have the resources, the intelligence and seemingly, the will to do so.

Q: Once the programs have aired, do you have any plans to continue to educate our community about this issue?

A: Absolutely. It’s amazing that 13 ABC has given me a forum that allows for public discussion of these types of issues. I can think of no better way to begin any journey toward change than open, honest and brave public discussion. We’ve done more than 400 Bridges shows and I can tell you that 90% of them have been about issues that require the attention of the community.

I would love to be part of that group of folks that raise their voices in acknowledgment of the need for change in this regard; it’s so important. No matter why it is that you think you are on this planet, those of us who are doing well have an obligation to assist those who are not; it’s a personal obligation for me. It’s one of the major reasons that this life makes sense.

Bridges airs every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on 13 ABC. The five-week series on infant mortality began Sun., Oct. 5.