Healthy African American Families is a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the reasons for low birth weight and infant mortality among African Americans in Los Angeles. HAAF began in October 1992 in order to gather information and ideas about the social, cultural, health and political factors that affect pregnancy outcomes for African American women in Los Angeles. Our research approach has been different from most medical research because we worked with 78 women for the duration of their pregnancies and talked to many of their families and friends. We asked them to talk about many things, including their thoughts about their pregnancy, community, their chances in life and their hopes and dreams. Our goal was to understand the life experiences that the women and their families celebrated, tolerated and feared. We used this method because we believed that it was the only way to truly understand the things that happen everyday and during pregnancy that might lead to low birth weight and infant mortality.
In order to research the reasons for these problems, we have tried to incorporate the African proverb: "It takes an entire village to raise a single child." In the process, we have learned that in Los Angeles, the African American village includes, families, friends, community organizations, churches, health care providers, businesses, artists, radio and TV personalities and educators. Not only have they shared information and resources with us, they have also shown us that when we work together on a single problem, no matter how different we all may be, we can all learn and grow in the process.
Even though we are still analyzing the results of the research, we have learned many things. First, we have learned that African American women are very receptive and interested in participating in research which allows them to share their views in their own words. Secondly, we have found that a wealth of information and resources exist throughout the African American community. Unfortunately, researches seldom seek out the people in our community who already have knowledge and an understanding of problems which affect them. Thirdly, we have learned that the women in our study carried their pregnancies with pride, joy and the faith that they would have strong healthy babies. Furthermore, in almost every case, their families and friends gave them unconditional support.