Members of Sankofa Birthworker’s Collective at the Maternal Health Network Bi-annual Summit in January 2024 at IEHP Headquarters

Honoring ancestral heritage, strengthening family ties, and embracing a right to birthwork all coalesce at Sankofa Birthworkers Collective of the Inland Empire. The intrepid organization comprises a dynamic variety of birthworkers from many professional backgrounds, all of whom offer unique skills sets.

“We are a group of more than 100 providers across Riverside and San Bernardino Counties,” noted Chantel Runnels, the organization’s Doula of Operations. “When we say birthworkers, we denote anyone who serves pregnant families, such as midwives. We specifically try to first connect these Black providers across to the largest counties right in the state. Secondly, we try to connect the community with these providers in the hopes of people receiving more culturally congruent care.”

It’s a bold endeavor all around and one that holds significant reach.

Sankofa’s collective includes midwives, certified doulas, lactation consultants, community advocates and other supporters. In addition to offering high-level service, Sankofa strives to place birthing families in “a position of agency” throughout the perinatal and postpartum experiences.

“We just started in 2018,” Runnels says. “We’ve worked with a couple of fiscal sponsors, and we’re just finalizing our own paperwork as a nonprofit this year. “Our hope is that, you know, in a couple years we’ll be able to stand on our own.”

By the looks of it, that seems destined.

Thus far, the organization has impressed with its array of services. In addition to linking individuals with one another, Sankofa offers several unique meetups that are designed to inspire. The Hybrid Postpartum Support Group is available in person and online, for instance. Monthly Black Breastfeeding Circles are geared to help individuals find much-needed community during their breastfeeding journeys.

newly trained doulas

Yet another breastfeeding group is designed specifically for mothers in the High Desert.

Recently, Sankofa Birthworkers Collective received a Black Equity Fund grant through Inland Empire Community Foundation. As a growing organization, the grant arrives at a vital time when Sankofa hopes to expand its impact.

“We’re hoping this grant, specifically, will help us in our capacity-building and strategic planning,” Runnels says. “It truly gives us a little more runway to strategize to connect the community and providers.

“We always have big dreams,” she adds, “and we’re hoping this specific grant could help us with those dreams.”

One of the key things to any new organization’s success is getting the word out. To that end, Sankofa has expanded in just a short amount of time. Runnels says she’d love for people in the region to know more about Sankofa, specifically, “that we’re committed to building community among culturally congruent providers across the Inland Empire.”

One of the organization’s taglines adheres to a commitment to “community, cause, and connection.”

“Those are our three C’s,” Runnels adds, “like building community, serving the community, building connection around providers, and supporting the cause of changing maternal healthcare in the Inland Empire.”

On the horizon, look for Sankofa to participate in the Perinatal Equity Initiative (PEI) Summit, running April 12-13. The intention of the summit is to reduce Black and African American maternal and infant mortality within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

“April 12 is a ‘provider day,’ and April 13 is a community day,” Runnels notes. “Sankofa will be there with many other providers across Inland Empire. Then, on April 14, we have a day just for new members— a special date just to care for them, because we know if you care for the people doing the work, then they’ll be able to go further in actually doing the work.

All that takes place during National Maternal Health Week, April 11-17.

In the meantime, valued community partnerships with standout organizations such as Diversity Uplifts, Inc., the California Black Infant Health Program, Riverside University Health System, and California Black Women’s Health Project, among others, further fuel the creative fires of this ambitious local change agent.

Learn more at

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, April 2024.

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