Kama Tai Mitchell

Kama Tai Mitchell

Featured in the Moon chapter in Agents of Evolution

The Evolutionary Path of the Moon + Evolving Belonging

The Moon represents motherhood in all its dimensions. Just as there are many kinds of mothers in the world, there are many different expressions of the astrological Moon. Some expressions of the Moon are soft and nurturing. Other expressions are oriented toward cultural preservation. Still other Moons express as fierce protectors, like mother bears. The single thread woven through these differing expressions of the Moon is mothering.

Kama Tai Mitchell’s story is a story as old as creation itself, weaving on down to her through her lineage grandmothers. Kama’s family calls her on the phone when their own babies are crying. She has the ability to take one listen to the baby, gather a sense of what’s going on, and tell the adults what they might try in order to soothe the baby. She’s been doing this since she herself was a kid, because even then she had the ability to communicate, non-verbally, with babies. Her family calls her the baby whisperer.

I got to know Kama when she facilitated an online group in which I participated. I experienced the way she held a space of unconditional acceptance. Her vibe always communicated to me, “You are loved. You are welcomed here. Isn’t this fun that we get to do this together?” Though our online group had never met in person, it felt like a large family.

Birth Work & Birth Justice

Kama is a mother of two. About a year after she had her second child, Kama was invited to be present at a home birth. She knew nothing about being a doula, but friends and other doulas and midwives could tell she had a sixth sense for it. She describes that birth as “serene” and “divine.” The woman giving birth “did the whole no-pushing, natural reflux of baby.” This experience lit a flame in Kama for doing birth work. Fifty births later, she got her doula certification.

In Michigan, doulas are paid out of pocket for home births since they’re not covered by insurance. And because of that Kama remembers, “A lot of my first births were with wealthier white women.” In Kalamazoo at that time, Kama reports that Black babies were dying at a rate four times greater than white babies, yet Black people were only thirteen percent of the population. Knowing that doula care would support Black and Brown mothers in feeling safe, supported, and nurtured through the experience of childbirth and early motherhood, and therefore would likely have a beneficial effect on the infant mortality rate, Kama longed for Black and Brown women to have access to doula care.

Kama remembers waking to the need for a solution when a new CEO from Uganda joined the local Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) leadership. This fierce new woman CEO was shocked at the disparity between the white versus Black and Brown infant mortality rates in the Kalamazoo community and called a conference to look at the issues. Kama remembers, “She basically said, ‘This is a direct correlation to the health of our overall community. We have to fix this.’”

Though Kama was brand new to the birth work scene at that time, she immediately saw how hospitals tended to place the blame for the infant mortality rates on Black people. She explained that while doctors and nurses don’t say it outright, “there’s always a spin: ‘Well, you know, I’m a home visiting nurse, and they don’t want me to come in their house,’ or ‘They keep canceling their appointments,’ or ‘They don’t get prenatal care.’ What they’re really saying is, ‘Black people don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to show up. They don’t take the resources that we’re offering them.’”

Kama understood something about the situation intuitively. She knew it wasn’t about Black people rejecting resources: “This is a socioeconomic issue. Point blank. We have a med- ical system with two hundred hospitals in this community, all these resources, but there’s a racial trust issue. There’s not one Black OB-GYN or midwife in all of Southwest Michigan, and until I came about, there were no black doulas.”

In 2015, after participating in many well-intentioned meetings led by an inter-organizational effort called Cradle Kalamazoo—whose mission was to end infant mortality—Kama grew weary of advocating for the need for doulas to serve the Black and Brown communities. She offered presentations and attended meetings, but ultimately she realized, “They’re not hearing me. I’m wasting my time. I’m just gonna go do the work.”

So, Kama gathered other Black women and funded their doula training with a grant. “We just went and did the work,” she says.

Kama’s organization, Rootead, provided the birth work her own community needed. Their mission statement encapsulates the classic drives the Moon inspires: “Reclaiming the village through cultural liberation by holding spaces for internal transformation, healing arts, and birthing justice.”

Rootead’s impact on births in the Black community soon captured the interest of others in Michigan, including Cradle Kalamazoo. “Then it was like, ‘Come sit at our table and tell us your methodology,’” Kama remembers.

Rootead’s story is a Moon Love story. Love and nurturing and connection and belonging are a legacy given to us by our mothers. This legacy gets passed down from generation to generation. Yet, because its impact most frequently happens under the radar, in back rooms and in the more subtle realms of home and hearth, the Moon’s presence often takes a back seat to the Sun in our current Western culture, not receiving much fanfare or recognition.

Today Rootead is thriving, offering birth work services and a rich array of cultural experiences, such as African dance for youth. I bet Kama’s grandmothers are proud.