Vickie Terry, executive director of the Memphis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her area.
“We were having a pleasant meeting when Elder Matthew Holland asked, ‘Vickie, what keeps you up at night?’ I told the visitors that it bothers me that today our headquarters resides in a zip code with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country,” she recalled.
Elder Holland, a General Authority Seventy and member of the North America Southeast Area presidency, took her concern to an area presidency meeting.
“We got excited about what we could do to change that,” said Elder Vern P. Stanfill, president of the North America Southeast Area. “We found a model created by an Ohio State University scholar. We’re following that model to create an environment where education and nutrition and sociality will help women in Shelby County care for their infants and be prepared to go into labor.
“Our vision in the southeastern United States is that we can go into communities like this and make a difference by partnering with others.”
On Saturday, Nov. 19, representatives from the Church, NAACP and health care community gathered in Memphis’s 38126 zip code to announce the launch of MyBaby4Me — a program with classes to help new and expectant mothers. A news release about the launch was published on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
NAACP Memphis Chapter President Van Turner called the partnership “God-ordained and God-inspired.”
“I’m just so happy that it’s happening at such a critical time in our city,” Turner said. “We’re dealing with public safety, we’re dealing with homelessness, we’re dealing with poverty. [It’s critical to address] the origin of humanity, when these young people are in the womb, and try to make sure they get the proper care while in the womb [and then] come out and survive and be healthy. Once that happens, they have a great start in life. That solves and resolves those other issues.”
In 2021 President Russell M. Nelson pledged $2 million a year for three years to help fund these type of joint projects between the Church and NAACP. Last month volunteers gathered to help install a new irrigation system in San Francisco, California.
MyBaby4Me classes for women begin Nov. 29, at the Memphis NAACP.
Terry explained what the classes will look like: “We’re going to teach mothers how to nurture their babies and how to become a mother. We’re going to teach them how to feed a baby and how to even put a baby in a car seat — just the basic things that need to be done in order to take care of a baby.”
Other partners in this project are Vance Avenue Youth Development Center, Baptist Memorial Health Care, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the Shelby County Health Department and Cooper Hotels.
Marc Allan Dudley, his wife, Sonya, and two of their daughters were among volunteers who spent Saturday afternoon distributing MyBaby4Me pamphlets in Memphis’s 38126 zip code.
“We had the opportunity to knock on the door of a woman that is pregnant right now,” said Marc Allan Dudley. “Her eyes kind of lit up, and she was thankful for the program. … People are happy that somebody notices that there’s an issue and that there’s somebody doing something about it.”
With the Dudleys being parents of eight who lost a 1-year-old son, infant mortality is close to their hearts.
“We love family,” Sonya Dudley said. “And that’s the big thing. If you’re gonna have a family, you’re gonna need to know how to take care of them. And it starts from the beginning. … I’m really thankful for the NAACP for understanding that everybody doesn’t understand how to take care of children and [that they are] giving that education.”