SHEA Health Equity Assessment

The SHEA Health Equity Assessment, led by Dr. Tanya Funchess and Dr. Joyee Washington from the University of Southern Mississippi, will encompass sessions covering various vital topics, including health equity, social determinants, health implicit bias, and cultural competency.

This comprehensive assessment process aims to identify and prioritize community needs by actively engaging community members. Through open conversations, participants will have the opportunity to share their concerns, questions, and opinions. The ultimate goal is to collaboratively develop an action plan that optimally serves the health needs of our community.

March 2024 – Food Pantry Distributions Information

Four separate food distributions were held in the Moss Point area on February 28, March 2, 13, and 23.

These distributions have helped a community that has a large base of both elderly seniors and young children under the age of 18. They provided a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, protein staples, as well as dry goods.

The food distributions were made possible through partnerships with MSPHI, SHEA, Feeding the Gulf Coast, and the Church of the Living God, with all food items being generously granted.

In total, these distributions served:

  • 3671 individuals
  • 1077 households
  • 968 seniors over the age of 60
  • 976 individuals under the age of 18
Food pantry picture Food pantry picture

February 2024 – Food Pantry Distributions Information

On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, a food pantry was held at the Church of the Living God, located at 6101 Dr. Martin L. King Blvd. in Moss Point, MS.

A total of 4,500 pounds of varied pre-packaged meals were available for distribution, including options such as macaroni and cheese, chili, and beef, as well as pre-packaged salads and assorted vegetables. Bakery items such as assorted breads, cakes, apple pies, muffins, and assorted cookies were also provided, along with an assortment of fruits like apples, oranges, pineapples, pears, and lemons.

The food distribution was made possible through partnerships with MSPHI, SHEA, Feeding the Gulf Coast, and the Church of the Living God, with all food items generously granted.

In total, the event served:

  • 631 individuals
  • 228 households
  • 231 seniors over the age of 60
  • 176 individuals under the age of 18

January 2024 – Food Pantry Distributions Information

On Friday, January 31, 2024, a food pantry was held at the Church of the Living God, located at 6101 Dr. Martin L. King Blvd. in Moss Point, MS.

A total of 7,984 pounds of varied pre-packaged meals were available for distribution, encompassing options such as macaroni and cheese, chicken alfredo, chicken street tacos, enchiladas, stuffed pasta shells, roasted beef roasts, beef chili, beef hamburger sliders, beef hamburger patties, as well as pre-packaged salads and assorted vegetables. Attendees also had access to assorted bakery items including various breads, cakes, apple pies, cupcakes, muffins, and assorted cookies, along with an assortment of fruits such as apples, oranges, pineapples, limes, and lemons.

During the event, a representative from the Magnolia Medical Foundation distributed 580 COVID tests and provided COVID literature.

The food distribution was made possible through partnerships with MSPHI, SHEA, Feeding the Gulf Coast, and the Church of the Living God, with all food items being generously granted.

In total, the event served:

  • 837 individuals
  • 297 households
  • 250 seniors over the age of 60
  • 260 individuals under the age of 18
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture

On Friday, January 24, 2024, a food pantry was hosted at the Church of the Living God, located at 6101 Dr. Martin L. King Blvd. in Moss Point, MS.

A diverse assortment of pre-packaged meals, totaling 5,000 pounds, was made available for distribution. These included options like macaroni and cheese, chicken alfredo, chicken street tacos, enchiladas, stuffed pasta shells, and roasted chicken roller trays. Attendees also had access to various bakery items, including assorted slices of bread, cakes, apple and peach pies, cupcakes, muffins, and an array of cookies. Fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and pineapples were also provided.

During the event, a representative from the Magnolia Medical Foundation distributed 300 COVID tests and provided literature on COVID.

The food distribution was made possible through partnerships with MSPHI, SHEA, Feeding the Gulf Coast, and the Church of the Living God, with all food items being generously granted.

In total, the event served:

  • 771 individuals
  • 247 households
  • 246 seniors over the age of 60
  • 284 individuals under the age of 18.
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture
Food pantry picture

Centering Mothers’ Needs to Support Breastfeeding in Our Community

Breastfeeding provides infants and mothers with lasting health benefits. Breastfed infants have reduced risk for ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections and may be less likely to develop asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and breast and ovarian cancers.  

Even though numerous studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding, only about two-thirds of Mississippi mothers report ever breastfeeding—the lowest in the nation. And the breastfeeding rates among Black mothers are even lower. The disparity in breastfeeding initiation and duration in Mississippi has been known for a while, but the question Aleshia Jones, a Gulfport lactation counselor, asks is: why?

Although the Mississippi Gulf Coast population is approximately 40 percent African American, there are few Black clinicians in Gulf Coast hospitals and clinics, and this lack of representation has been cited as a reason for lingering trust issues between Black women and healthcare providers. 

Jones has made it a part of her lifework to offer her services and words of encouragement to her community at no cost. Neighbors, members of her local church, and many women often find her by word-of-mouth referrals, noting her reputation as a staunch advocate for the health and well-being of Black babies and mothers. Her reputation and commitment are also a large part of the reason she was the first recipient of the SHEA (Sharing Health Education and Awareness) Myrtle Evelyn Davis Public Health Trailblazer Award in 2019.



Breaking Down the Barriers to Breastfeeding

According to a 2015 survey conducted by the National Immunization Survey-Child, Black women were more likely than their white counterparts to have incomes at or below the federal poverty level and receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares these and other statistics on its website as contributing factors to the racial breastfeeding disparity in the United States. However, this selection of data points only tells part of the story. Jones adamantly asserts “feeling like you have that support and encouragement” is the main barrier Black mothers face, and it is not represented in the majority of surveys.

These data points do not display or demonstrate the sustained and significant barriers of entry Black women face when it comes to breastfeeding. For example, some Black women may not be prepared to breastfeed after delivery because they have not been provided adequate information or support. A recent PBS NewsHour article cites CDC research that shows hospital maternity wards serving larger Black populations are less likely to help Black women initiate breastfeeding after giving birth or offer lactation support following delivery. Black mothers are more often offered formula, which is often seen as convenient, especially when Black mothers tend to have to return to work shortly after giving birth and are confronted with “inflexible work hours” that make nursing and expressing milk extremely difficult. 

Jones says that having two children under the age of three at home also makes breastfeeding more challenging, and she urges healthcare providers and community advocates to change their perspective on who needs breastfeeding support and who faces obstacles. “We have to get out of the mind-frame that African American women on the Gulf Coast are automatically low-income and that they’re the only ones suffering,” says Jones. She emphasizes that there are plenty of women from various backgrounds facing the same barriers.

Healthcare providers and advocates need to understand the specific cultural and social norms for Black women across the socioeconomic spectrum. Jones explains that a lack of diversity in hospitals and healthcare settings, specifically a lack of Black women in key roles, is a hindrance to Black women breastfeeding. 

“It can be difficult when you don’t have somebody helping you that looks like you,” Jones reasons. “Sometimes you might not feel like they truly understand what you’re going through.” According to data from the American Association of Medical Colleges, most physicians are white and male, and most Black physicians—more than 40 percent—are primary care physicians, which means they are likely not providing care and counsel to Black women who are pregnant. In response to this, SHEA enlisted Jones to be one of many faces of an educational campaign with content specifically tailored to educate Black mothers. 


Stepping Up to Support Black Women’s Decision to Breastfeed

Beyond the systemic and economic barriers, Jones believes the biggest issue Black women on the Mississippi Gulf Coast face is a lack of support: physical and emotional. “Even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t agree with [a woman’s decision to breastfeed], support is the biggest thing,” Jones says. “[That] looks different for every woman. No matter her race. Support may look like washing a load of laundry for the mother, watching the baby while she takes a nap, or simply running her bathwater.” 

Jones emphasizes that every mother needs different types and degrees of support because they’re all at different levels. The SHEA campaign was created with the express purpose of providing education and support for Black women on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, using its website and social media channels as platforms to connect and communicate with women from all walks of life.


It Starts With Caring

A woman’s breastfeeding experience, including her needs and challenges, is directly tied to her cultural background and understanding. A critical first step is providing Black women with educational and informational resources that speak to their specific experience, which also means ensuring they can see themselves in the images and language that is used.

One of Jones’ favorite quotes is from former President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” She believes that statement speaks volumes and should guide the efforts to increase breastfeeding in the Black community. “Black women have to know you truly care,” she adds.

Caring means taking the time to understand the unique challenges Black women experience. Caring means having an open dialogue about how healthcare systems and communities need to change to support Black women and families. Caring means working to reduce health disparities by any means necessary and sustaining efforts with and in Black communities to improve health.

To learn more ways you can support efforts to improve health among Black women on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, visit


Find out more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of getting a flu vaccine, and more fun facts in our SHEA Breastfeeding Mini-Magazine.

Interview With Dr. Vivian Malone

Women have made up 80 percent of the education workforce for the past five years, according to the most recent data from the Mississippi Department of Education, and more than one out of every ten teachers in traditional public schools are under the age of 30, which means many teachers may be at an age where they are starting or adding to their families. Breastfeeding at work can be challenging for many women, and teachers are not exempt from those challenges.

Dr. Vivian Malone, head principal at Popp’s Ferry Elementary School in Biloxi and a member of the Pascagoula-Gautier School Board of Trustees, shared her perspective on breastfeeding and the roles schools play in promoting healthy behaviors among employees and parents with us.

Let’s talk a little bit about your personal experience with breastfeeding. Did you breastfeed your children? I did not breastfeed my children. I have three children, who are 30, 25, and 19. When I was younger, breastfeeding was just not promoted as much as it is now. But I know for a fact my mother and grandmother breastfed.

What is your view on breastfeeding today? I believe breastfeeding is a very healthy choice for mothers as well as their babies. More than that, it is less costly than formula. I often tell the story of how my daughter had a hard time adjusting to formula, and my doctor never once suggested that I breastfeed. I think that would have been much easier for her and me because I tried so many different formulas. When I meet young mothers, I do encourage them to consider breastfeeding. It brings your baby closer to you, and breastfed babies tend to be healthier.

Is there any specific advice or words of encouragement you provide mothers who are considering breastfeeding? My words of encouragement would be not to allow someone, especially someone who has never breastfed, to discourage you. Don’t be embarrassed by it. Breastfeeding is natural. Don’t be afraid to work and breastfeed. It is possible to do both. I would suggest speaking about it with your supervisor to see what has been put in place for breastfeeding mothers.

When it comes to the education system, do you feel employees receive the amount of support they need to breastfeed and comfortably come back to work? Most teachers are female and of childbearing age. I can speak specifically about my school. I tell my teachers to not be hesitant to tell me if they have decided to breastfeed. We have set aside a room that is not a bathroom and camera-free, so they can have the privacy they need. [Teachers that are breastfeeding] have a team teacher able to step in for them throughout the day so they can pump when they need to.

I have heard other women talk about how their supervisors were not accommodating, and if they wanted to breastfeed, they would have to go into a bathroom. It didn’t feel sanitary for them to do that, so we made sure to create a comfortable and sanitary place for breastfeeding teachers in our building. 

Are there any additional ideas you have to promote breastfeeding in the workplace? We need more conversation about it. Make sure supervisors are more comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding. No one talks about it. We could implement staff development for our supervisors on how to properly communicate with employees that are breastfeeding or plan to in the future.

So, when it comes to low breastfeeding rates among Black women on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, what can be done to boost those rates? In our health departments and OB-GYN facilities, breastfeeding should be promoted more. There should be more reading materials provided on the benefits of breastfeeding. A lot of women just don’t know. Probably because their mothers didn’t breastfeed either.

I think teaching children and young adults earlier on about breastfeeding is also a great idea. Our school district offers Family & Life Dynamics classes and at some point, students have to take a babydoll or an egg home and pretend to be parents. Those classes could easily incorporate the topic of breastfeeding.


Find out more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of getting a flu vaccine, and more fun facts in our SHEA Breastfeeding Mini-Magazine.

Coastal Health Center Program Helping Black Moms Quit Smoking

Pass Christian resident Shalia Carter started smoking as a teenager—not unlike the more than 90 percent of smokers in the United States. When she became a mother and learned the harm smoking was having on her health and the health of her children, she decided to quit. Shalia joined the ranks of the 68 percent of adult smokers who say they want to quit smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But quitting isn’t easy. More than half of adult cigarette smokers attempt to quit each year, but fewer than one in ten are able to successfully quit. 

The negative health effects of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have been known for decades. However, most adult smokers who see a health professional don’t receive advice to quit. Fortunately, Shalia and other Black mothers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are able to access the Baby & Me – Tobacco Free Program™ at Coastal Family Health Center through the Healthy Families, Mothers, and Babies Initiative, which also supports the SHEA campaign. For Shalia, learning just how much harm smoking could cause her and her baby was the main reason she decided to quit.

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things pregnant women can do for their health and the health of their babies. As an incentive for participating in the Baby & Me program, mothers receive monthly diaper vouchers, which is an added bonus to the savings mother’s experience after quitting. Shalia is saving approximately $1,000 a year by quitting and plans to spend that money on clothes and food for her baby. She also feels healthier and has more energy. “I feel like I can do more with my kids because I’m not spending time smoking,” Shalia says.

Research shows smoking remains the most common preventable cause of pregnancy complications and death among infants. How and when Black women receive this support is also critical. Ruby Montgomery has worked directly with Shalia throughout the program, and Shalia’s experience proves that having healthcare providers and support professionals who understand Black women is important. “Every time I come in there, [Ruby] is excited to help me and asks me questions like she’s concerned about me,” says Shalia. “It makes me feel great because I feel like she cares.”

For more information regarding the Baby & Me  – Tobacco Free Program, visit the SHEA website at or contact Genevieve Youngblood at Coastal Family Health Center at or (228) 864-0003, ext. 1071. 

Find out more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of getting a flu vaccine, and more fun facts in our SHEA Breastfeeding Mini-Magazine.

Creating a Community of Support for Black Moms Interested in Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding a newborn can be an exciting time for a new mother. However, for some women, there is a very real fear that might accompany, and sometimes overpower, their feelings of excitement. Peer support during breastfeeding can help ease breastfeeding anxiety and increase the likelihood mothers will breastfeed exclusively for six months—the amount of time recommended by pediatricians.

Baby cafés are designed to help new parents navigate the joys and challenges of caring for their infant in a community of peers with support from health professionals. During regular sessions, mothers are able to share stories and resources, including advice about the unique breastfeeding experience Black women have.

Tina Fritz, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, facilitates the baby café at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula.Her goal is to create a safe space where pregnant and new mothers feel comfortable sharing stories, asking questions, and connecting with other women. 

“We usually have a group discussion,” Fritz says. “Whatever the parents want to talk about, that’s what we talk about. My job is to make sure that correct information about breastfeeding is being shared and that mothers have the resources they need to breastfeed successfully.”

Although new parents often hear about the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, Fritz says it’s essential for women to know about the health benefits for mothers. “Breastfeeding protects mothers from diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer. The more exclusively and the longer a mother breastfeeds, the greater the protection against those diseases.”

In addition to peer support and trusted advice, one of the other benefits of participating in a baby café is the opportunity to have an infant weighed before and after a mom breastfeeds. “A lot of moms love doing a pre- and a post-feed weight, the difference between the weights gives us a concrete number that tells us the amount of milk the baby got during that feeding,” Fritz says. “That information is reassuring to mothers who worry their baby is not getting enough milk.”

The Singing River and Merit Health Hospital baby cafés are open for all pregnant and nursing moms, regardless of where their baby was delivered. The Gulf Coast Breastfeeding Center is privately owned and operated by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Hancock county. More information about baby cafés on the Gulf Coast can be found at

Find out more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of getting a flu vaccine, and more fun facts in our SHEA Breastfeeding Mini-Magazine.

Mississippi Public Health Institute & Gulf Coast Design Studio Release Black History Month Press Statement

Fighting for Health Equity for Black Women: Progress Is Far from Perfection

For the past two years, Coastal Family Health Center, the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, and Mississippi Public Health Institute have been working side-by-side—first physically and for the past nine months virtually—with local partners, advocates, and leaders on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to support and strengthen systems that directly and indirectly influence the health of African American mothers, babies, and families. Today, in honor of Black History Month, we stand in solidarity to shed light on the specific and significant health impacts of COVID-19—and the lack of investment in efforts to address health disparities—among African American women.

In 2020, the novel Coronavirus swept through our communities, and as the data clearly shows, ravaged African American communities across the country and along the Gulf Coast. And even now, as we approach the one-year mark of this global pandemic, the Coronavirus is still making headlines every day. Beneath those headlines are some very disturbing and distressing data that reveal the immense health and economic impact COVID-19 has had on African American families and communities.

The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project shows that COVID-19 is claiming the lives of African Americans at nearly twice the rate of their white counterparts. This disparity is a direct result of limited access to health care, safe employment opportunities, affordable housing, and several other issues that have plagued these communities for years. The cumulative toll of COVID-19 is weighing heavily on African American mothers, babies, and families, and it is incumbent on all of us to promote and advance equity in order to improve the health of our entire community.

Black women have been historically resilient. Ida B Wells-Barnett was born into slavery. Lost her parents to yellow fever at age 16. And became the co-owner of Memphis Free Speech and Headlight which covered incidents of racial segregation and inequality. Her perspective was not welcome in the 1890s, so her life was constantly in danger. In spite of that she kept writing, speaking, and organizing for the rest of her life. To this day, African American women are still writing, speaking, organizing, and thriving—even when the odds are stacked against them.

But that doesn’t mean the health and economic needs of African American women don’t deserve to be prioritized. It doesn’t mean that African American women, especially African American mothers, should be left to fend for themselves as the country decides whether it can afford to provide adequate support and relief.

The National Women’s Law Center recently released data indicating roughly 154,000 African American women left the workforce in December 2020, which is the largest one-month drop in their labor force size since the beginning of this pandemic. Even for the African American women who maintain employment, their jobs are often in sectors that put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. As the Economic Policy Institute notes in a recent report, African Americans are disproportionately represented in employment in grocery, convenience, and drug stores (14.2%); public transit (26%); trucking, warehouse, and postal service (18.2%); health care (17.5%); and child care and social services (19.3%). Although the work of many African American women has been deemed “essential”, their health has not.

Access to health care also continues to be a persistent problem for African American women. In a 2019 report, the National Partnership for Women and Families noted that nearly 14 percent of African American women are uninsured, compared to eight percent of white women. That number is even higher for low-income women, with nearly one in five being uninsured, and according to the report, African American women in the South have the lowest rates of health insurance coverage among their peers across the country. Sadly, African American women of reproductive age have the biggest coverage disparity, which makes it difficult to have a healthy pregnancy.

In summary, we have a lot of work to do, and the reality is that it will take much more than 28 days of historical reflection or a few conversations about equity to make meaningful change. When citizens, community organizations, and health care institutions work together to share information and resources, coordinate activities, collaborate on solutions and build a network of support, we can make a measurable difference for African American women, babies, and families. By advocating for and creating environments that are healthy, equitable, and understanding, we can ensure African American women and their families have the resources, opportunities, and support they need to live full, healthy lives.


About the Mississippi Public Health Institute
MSPHI is a nonprofit entity established in 2011 to protect and improve the health and well-being of Mississippians, serving as a partner and convener to promote health, improve outcomes and encourage innovations in health systems. We cultivate partnerships aimed at program innovation, health resources, education, applied research, and policy development.

About the Gluf Coast Community Design Studio
GCCDS is a professional service and outreach program of Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art + Design. GCCDS works through close, pragmatic partnerships with local organizations and communities in and beyond the three Mississippi’s coastal counties, putting professional expertise to work in order to shape vibrant and resilient Gulf Coast communities.

Mississippi Public Health Institute Encourages Pregnant Women and Breastfeeding Mothers in Jackson, Hancock, and Harrison Counties to Take Steps to Avoid Infection

Media Contacts:
Tennille Collins, Mississippi Public Health Institute,, (601) 398-4406
Elaina Jackson, Fahrenheit Creative Group, LLC,, (601) 371-8003

Partner Organizations Provide Coronavirus (COVID-19) to Recommend Safety Measures for Pregnant Women and Breastfeeding Mothers on Website and Social Media

JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi Public Health Institute (MSPHI), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to engage in partnerships and activities that improve Mississippi’s health, is encouraging pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties to take measure to protect themselves and their babies during the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts are part of the organization’s collaborative SHEA (Sharing Health Education & Awareness) campaign, which is the public education and awareness component of a multi-year effort to increase breastfeeding rates among African American women and improve overall health along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women and breastfeeding can protect themselves from COVID-19 by taking the same steps as the general public to avoid infection, which include:

  • Covering your cough (using your elbow is a good technique)
  • Avoiding people who are sick
  • Washing your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoiding social gatherings of 10 or more people

Breastfeeding mothers with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or are showing symptoms should take extra precautions, including:

  • Washing your hands before touching the infant
  • Wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast
  • Washing your hands before touching any breast pump or bottle parts
  • Following recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use, if feeding with a manual or electric breast pump
  • Considering having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant

“We don’t currently know if or how COVID-19 may affect pregnant women and babies, which is why we are encouraging women to take extra precautions to protect their health and the health of their child,” said Tennille Collins, program manager at MSPHI. “Through social distancing, handwashing, and other measures, we can help ensure mothers, babies, and families are healthy and safe.”

For the most current information on COVID-19, visit the MSDH website at  For more information on MSPHI, visit