Better access to maternal care and resources in St. Louis

High infant mortality rates and lack of maternal care have disproportionately affected Black women for decades, and there is little momentum toward creating tangible change and resources for this population. CannonDesign project architect Elise Novak was introduced to the Jamaa Birth Village in 2018, and our St. Louis office helped transform a former physician office building into an Equal Access Midwifery Clinic.

What they do

Founder Tru Kellman wanted to create a space where women of color provided midwife and doula services—currently a predominantly white industry—that were accessible and affordable to her community. This led Tru, the first black Certified Professional Midwife in the state of Missouri, to create Jamaa Birth Village in 2015, a nonprofit that offers these services to families in Ferguson and other St. Louis-area communities.

How we're helping

Our design team assessed and documented a donated physician office building in Ferguson, and produced a concept design with renderings and new construction plans for cost estimation. However, after meeting with contractors, retrofitting the building to accommodate a birthing room was too expensive, and founder Tru Kellman and the team had to rethink the project’s goals.

In the end, Tru led a smaller scale renovation, and CannonDesign helped her see the project through to completion. Several CannonDesigners even helped with the renovation work.

“For those of us involved in the project, every aspect of our work took on additional meaning—knowing the value of this project to the St. Louis community and the project’s social justice implications made even the small tasks feel important,” said Elise Novak. “It was great to see the willingness of many CannonDesigners to get on site and get their hands dirty to support this effort.”

Ultimately, the completed renovation allows Jamaa, which means family in Swahili, to expand its services, including pre- and post-natal care, access to mental health services, a community garden, custom childbirth and nutrition classes, doula care and more. Clients can choose their pregnancy and birthing experience, an option that Black women have long been denied. Jamaa also provides midwife and doula training, to empower more women of color to enter the profession. Since Jamaa’s creation in 2015, Tru has won several grants to support her work, and her organization has gained recognition on a national level.