The Black Mothers Care Plan of South Florida

The “Black Mothers Care Plan” at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary community-research partnership that seeks to improve the quality of prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care for Black women and birthing persons in South Florida and to foster equity in health care for Black mothers. The BMCP works to reduce the extreme mortality and morbidity rates among pregnant and postpartum Black women in Miami-Dade County. We affirm that Black women and birthing persons can lay claim to their birthing experience, postpartum period, new motherhood, and infants’ health through identifying, challenging and dismantling racism and its impacts, community-building, resource procurement, and connecting to providers committed to equitable care solutions. We follow the framework of Liberatory Design, centering equity, co-creation, and agency by shifting “the relationship between the people who hold power…and those impacted” (Anaissie, et al.), placing women’s knowledge and patient-guided care practices at the forefront and ensuring medical professionals hear and respond to Black women’s needs. We operationalize evidenced-based, community-led solutions by working collaboratively with community organizations, doulas and midwives, medical practitioners, and birth and maternal health advocates to implement sustainable, strategic interventions and programs all with the goal of improving the quality of care for Black women and birthing persons. For more information on the Black Mothers Care Plan and to join our mailing list, please email

The BMCP produces original research and designs and implements maternal health equity initiatives in collaboration with community partners. Serving both mothers and practitioners, the BMCP seeks to reduce the racial bias that causes trauma for Black mothers and babies; empower Black mothers to feel a sense of agency in the birthing process leading to more positive health and development outcomes for mother and child; and to create an environment where Black women feel they can trust their providers to recommend necessary procedures and to deliver high quality care. Ultimately, addressing and reducing racial bias in care helps Black mothers get the care and support they need and directly promotes healthy development of infants. 
Research Team


Dr. Okezi T. Otovo, Principal Investigator

Dr. Otovo is Associate Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies and Affiliate Faculty of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at Florida International University. She is author of Progressive Mothers, Better Babies: Race, Public Health, and the State in Brazil, 1850-1945 (University of Texas Press, 2016); a study that connects the history of cultural and medical ideas to the experiences of poor black families in institutions devoted to public health and social welfare within the context of abolition and state-building. Her current research investigates black maternity, racial disparities in health, and women’s life experiences in Miami (20th century). It analyzes black women’s bodily epistemologies in relation to their life histories, including experiences of sexuality, pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. At FIU, she teaches introductory, advanced, and graduate courses on Latin America, modern Brazil, and thematic topics such as gender, race, public health, and the social history of medicine.

Dr. Otovo has published research articles in the Luso-Brazilian Review, Law and History Review, and the Revista da Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores(as) Negros(as) as well as several book chapters and book reviews. She leads “The Black Mothers Care Plan: Reducing Racial Bias and Supporting Maternal and Infant Health,” a major research and community engagement project sponsored by The Children’s Trust. Dr. Otovo has also lead community projects such as “From Moments to Movements: Story-Telling as Epistemology in Black Maternal Health” and “Perspectives on Black Motherhood and Health,” a reading and discussion group funded by Florida Humanities, as a well as a public history collaboration with the Blanche Ely House Museum, a division of the Cultural Affairs Department in the City of Pompano Beach, FL.


Dr. Marie Alexandra Cornelius, Co-Principal Investigator and Director, Center for Women’s and Gender Studies

 Dr. Alexandra Cornelius is the Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (CWGS) at Florida International University (FIU). Appointed in 2020, she leads the Center in promoting women’s and gender studies research, curricular development, and Miami-based community partnerships. Cornelius joined the Department of History and the African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Program in 2006 and was promoted to Associate Teaching Professor in 2019. She earned her Ph.D. in American History from Washington University, St. Louis, after completing an M.A. in American History at Purdue University and a B.A. in History at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY).

Her research and teaching expertise are in Race, Gender and Science, and in African American Women’s Intellectual History. Committed to intersectional approaches to the study health and wellness, Cornelius established the Health Humanities Certificate program at FIU. Her publications include “‘A Taste of the Lash of Criticism’: Racial Progress, Self-Defense, and Christian Intellectual Thought in the Work of Amelia E. Johnson” in Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia Bay, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Martha Jones, and Barbara Savage (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).


Dr. Vicki L. Burns, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Burns is an assistant teaching professor in the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at Florida International University. Dr. Burns earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami. Dr. Burns' most recent research and teaching interests include violence prevention and health disparities. Dr. Burns has been nationally and locally recognized for her teaching and pedagogical approaches. Nationally, she was awarded the Inaugural Action Teaching Award from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Division 9 and the Mary Roth Walsh Teaching the Psychology of Women Honorable Mention Award from APA Division 35.

Dr. Burns was also recognized by Ashoka U with a #MillionsofChangemakers award. Dr. Burns’ teaching has also been recognized locally, as she was awarded Florida International University's Top Scholar Award and Faculty Senate Award for Excellence in Teaching. Dr. Burns' work has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals such as Violence Against Women, Psychology of Women Quarterly and Women & Therapy. Her teaching innovations have also been featured in local media outlets such as The Miami Herald, The Miami New Times and iHeart Radio.


Dr. Andrea Queeley, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Queeley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies and the Program in African and African Diaspora Studies. She has taught courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, including Intra-Caribbean migration, Latin American migration to the U.S., Race and Revolution in Cuba, the African Diaspora in Latin America, and Cultures of the Caribbean. Whether teaching courses that relate directly to her own research or those that more broadly address key topics in African Diaspora Studies and Cultural Anthropology, she adopts an interdisciplinary, student-centered approach.

Her primary goals are to: 1) facilitate students' critical engagement with a range of texts, 2) assist them in developing their research and writing skills, 3) expose them to innovative ethnographic methodologies, and 4) provide mentorship. In the classroom, she incorporates techniques designed to use writing as a tool for learning as well as group work and peer feedback to support the development of critical thinking skills.

Supporting Staff

Manuela Thomas, MPH, Senior Program Coordinator

Manuela Thomas is Senior Program Coordinator in the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at Florida Internaltional University. Manuela earned her Master of Public Health from the University of South Florida and Bachelor of Health Science from the University of Florida. 

Manuela is a public health practioner and consultant with specialized interest in community-based efforts to reduce rates of maternal, fetal, and infant mortality, increasing access to mental and behavioral health services, and working collaboratively across sectors to improve population health outcomes. 



Zharia Thomas, Graduate Research Assistant

Zharia is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in Developmental Science, whose research interests include factors that influence Black women’s health and well-being, such as health disparities, stereotypes, and cultural norms of femininity. She plans to continue to examine Black women’s health by analyzing the impact of cultural gender stereotypes.


Reyni Valerio, Program Manager

Reyni is the Program Manager for CWGS. In this role, she manages the Center’s academic programs and events. She can be reached at

Advisory Board
  • Jamarah Amani, Executive Director, Southern Birth Justice Network and Director, National Black Midwives Alliance

    Jamarah Amani is a community midwife who believes in the transformative and healing power of birth and that every baby has a human right to human milk. Her mission is to do her part to build a movement for Birth Justice locally, nationally, and globally. As a birth worker and advocate, Jamarah has been tackling the epidemics of Black maternal and infant morbidity and mortality for over fifteen years. She is currently the director of Southern Birth Justice Network, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working to expand the Birth Justice movement and to make midwifery and doula care accessible to all. She is also the co-founder of National Black Midwives Alliance, the only national professional association specifically for midwives of African descent.

    Jamarah is the recipient of the 2019 Trailblazer Award from the City of Miami. She has been featured in a variety of media outlets including PBS, NPR, NBC, and publications such as the Miami Times and the South Florida Times, among others. She has written for several blogs including the Huffington Post and is currently a fellow of Echoing Ida, a community of Black women and non-binary writers. In addition to parenting four children and jumping in the ocean whenever possible, Jamarah offers midwifery care to families across South Florida and workshops on Birth Justice to organizations across the United States.

  • Dr. Rokeshia Renné Ashley, Assistant Professor, Communication, School of Communication and Journalism
    Dr. Ashley is a Miami native and mother to her daughter, Emery. Ashley’s research focuses on health communication in body image and modification, and maternal health. She examines how Black women manage their appearance relative to reception of health information and negotiating modification in a racial and health context, while also exploring the interactions between patients and healthcare providers pre-, during, and post-natal to uncover culturally competent strategies to improve Black women and babies' maternal mortality. To date, Ashley’s work has been published in Health Communication, Journal of Black Studies, and Communication, Culture & Critique. Her research has been publicly shared by U.S. News & World Report, the Chicago Tribune, Columbia Missourian (in print and online), Allure Magazine, Red Lake Nation News and more; collectively over 10 million readers across varying platforms. Ashley has presented numerous papers at academic conferences like the International Communication Association, National Association of African American Studies conferences and have accepted a university invitation to speak about her research in South Africa.
  • Santra Denis, MPH, Executive Director, Miami Workers Center

    A South Florida native, Santra Denis currently serves as the Interim Executive Director for the Miami Workers Center, a strategy and action center whose purpose is to build the power and self-determination of south Florida’s most oppressed communities and help to build a progressive voice and platform that can nurture the growth of movements for social change in Florida and in the United States. Ms. Denis’ civic involvement includes serving as the President & Founder of Avanse Ansanm. Avanse Ansanm’s mission is to engage & connect Haitian-American Millennials, understand and harness their collective economic & political power, preserve Haitian culture in Haitian- American Millennials, and cultivate a strong community bounded by a shared strategy to advance All Things Haitian. She is the Miami Chapter Ambassador for She_Builds Global Initiative. Denis served as the Senior Vice-President for the Urban League of Broward County Young Professionals Network where she spearheaded the 1st Annual State of Young Black Broward Forum on health, criminal justice, and economics. She serves on the board of New Leaders Council- Broward, the premier leadership and professional development, training, mentoring, networking, and career and political advancement program for young professionals. Ms. Denis is a Sant La Fellow, a Haitian American Leadership program for young adults in Miami Dade County. She serves as a member of Community Advisory Board at Florida International University Research Center in Minority Institutions. She also serves as a board member for Miami Dade County's Office of New Americans.

    Denis has been recognized for her commitment to anti-poverty work in South Florida. Most recently, she was honored as by the Broward County Commission on the Status of Women as a Valiant Woman of the Vote; Ruth’s List Broward as a “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” Award Recipients; the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida as part of the Inaugural class of Leaders for the esteemed award of “20 Under 40 Young Professionals” as well as “40 under 40” Leaders of Today and Tomorrow in South Florida by Legacy Magazine.

  • Dr. Nola Holness, Assistant Professor, Undergraduate Nursing, Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences

    Dr. Holness is an Assistant Professor in the undergraduate nursing department at the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences. As a Certified Nurse Midwife specialist, Dr. Holness is an expert in Pregnancy and Postpartum care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she became a global powerhouse researching the challenges of expecting African American mothers pre- and post-delivery during COVID-19. She is a Certified Nurse Educator and an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse with a Board Certification as an Adult Nurse Practitioner. Dr. Holness is a delegate of the ACNM and serves in collaboration with other organizations to reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. She is a member of the ACNM Division of Global Engagement Education Committee.

    Dr. Holness does consultation work in the Dominican Republic to educate nurses on improving maternity knowledge and skills, and coordinates research activities with physicians in the Eastern Region of the Dominican Republic. She also performs missionary work in Honduras as a nurse-midwife. Her research interest is to enhance the reproductive health of adolescents. Dr. Holness has published on adolescent pregnancy and presented at regional, national, and international conferences. She was awarded the Undine Sam’s Research Grant toward her research on preventing a repeat adolescent pregnancy. She was recognized by the Dominican Foundation for Mothers & Infants as an outstanding researcher and educator.

  • Dr. Rebeca Martinez, Vice Chair of Education, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Chief of OB/GYN; Assistant Clerkship Director; and Associate Professor

    Dr. Becky Martinez earned her Bachelor’s in Science Degree at the University of Miami in 1982 where she received her degree in Chemistry as well as Religion. During her years at the University of Miami School of Medicine, she was exposed to the extremely busy inner-city hospital, Jackson Memorial Hospital. This was during a time that saw a significant increase of vulnerable populations including newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients as well as the increased influx of immigrants into the City of Miami, from both Cuba via the Mariel Boatlift as well as the political turmoil in Haiti. She wanted to make a difference in these vulnerable populations and believed that she might be able to, and thus applied to JMH’s OB/GYN internship and the residency there as her first choice.

    Dr. Martinez received excellent training in OB/GYN during one of the busiest times of the JMH OB/GYN program. Teaching and education are the best marriage for Dr. Martinez’s passion: good clinical medicine and the implementation of bioethics into all aspects of medical care. It is imperative that future physicians understand that the combination of bioethics and clinical knowledge is the basis for good physician patient relationships and the basis of social justice in medicine. This is achieved by the education of students, educators as well as patients on their medical options. Dr. Martinez is also the Clinical Chief for GYN at the FIU Health Clinic and the Student Health Clinic. She oversees the clinical aspects as well as practicing. She continues to take pride in providing excellent care for her patients. Her goal is the improvement of medical care to patients through her own practice and through the education of the next generations of physicians.

  • Esther McCant, Founder, Metro Mommy Agency
    As the founder and CEO of Metro Mommy Agency, Esther McCant has provided labor support to over 100 mothers during their birthing experience and also has served hundreds of mothers in South Florida through childbirth education, breastfeeding support, and other postpartum doula support services. She is not only a doula and childbirth educator, but also serves as a lactation counselor and certified HypnoBirthing® childbirth educator. Currently, Esther is working to increase breastfeeding rates & reduce infant mortality as the co-lead for the Healthy Baby Taskforce, a subcommittee of the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade County. This local community committee addresses health issues for children. She also serves as the Education and Communication Coordinator for the Jasmine Project, a program that provides wraparound services to reduce infant mortality rates in Miami Gardens and surrounding areas. She also currently serves as the founder and director of the Metro Mommy Agency Doula Mentorship program where she provides ongoing mentorship to 15 doulas located in Florida and Georgia.
News Updates
Members of the Black Mothers Care Plan team attended South Florida’s first Black Health Summit hosted by the Health Foundation of South Florida on Thursday,June 16, 2022, at Florida Memorial University. Various health experts and leaders convened to discuss the state of Black health in South Florida and health equity solutions. Breakout sessions created a think tank environment for attendees to share experiences and insights on improving maternal and child health. Dr. Okezi Otovo, Principal Investigator of the Black Mothers Care Plan facilitated a discussion on improving maternal-child health with a focus on identifying actions and strategies.
The Black Mothers Care Plan is excited to announce that we were awarded a Miami Foundation Community Grant! This award will support continuous activities and program expansion. With Miami Foundation support, we will launch a community workshop series this fall on prenatal and postpartum wellness led by our BMCP Master Trainer Black doulas and midwives. Look out for more information soon about these upcoming workshops on "Black Maternal Health and Wellness," coming to neighborhoods throughout Miami-Dade.
Past Events 





For more information on the Black Mothers Care Plan and to join our mailing list, please email