For more on the rest of the Culture Shifters, including TV writer Cord Jefferson and activist Mariah Moore, return to the full list here.
For Erica Chidi, knowledge is power. Or, to be more precise, understanding is power.
During a career largely devoted to women’s sexual and reproductive health care, Chidi has served as a health educator, doula, reproductive justice advocate for black and incarcerated women, and startup founder.
One thing has been consistent, through a litany of roles: She wants women – especially black women – to understand their bodies and be understood.
“Sexual and reproductive health is the best equalizer,” Chidi told HuffPost in a conversation with Zoom. She recalls her time as a doula in San Francisco, where she worked with affluent women and couples in technology in private practice and also provided these services to incarcerated women as a founding member of the Birth Justice Project. “Everyone, whether you are super rich or not rich and in a very difficult situation, everyone wants the same information. Everyone wants to know how to protect themselves and take care of their body. “
In 2016, Chidi and co-founder Quinn Lundberg launched wellness company Loom with a cozy and trendy brick-and-mortar space in Los Angeles that offered workshops on sex and reproductive health. For the past year, she has been working on a new digital extension for Loom. The platform, which launches this spring, aims to make the same kind of classrooms and community found in the LA storefront accessible to a whole new group of people.
“I knew firsthand from my one-on-one health coaching and working as a doula over the years that giving someone an education on what they’re going through and what they’re about to go through can change. results for sure, ”Chidi said. “But even if the result remains exactly the same, their experience is better because they have this awareness.”
The child of a doctor and nurse, both from Nigeria, Chidi was born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and moved frequently as a child. At the age of 10, after her parents’ divorce, she joined her father in South Africa, where she spent her teenage years.
“Getting around has given me a lot of information about the human condition, and it has given me a lot of empathy for people in different environments, especially going from the United States to South Africa, maybe. to be about four years after the end of apartheid, ”she said. . “I have always had a very great curiosity for other people, and as a woman, I have always had a deep curiosity for the other women in my life.
Chidi was a precocious and voracious reader, and often joined her father, an endocrinologist and infectious disease specialist, during his hospital visits. “I like to understand things deeply,” she says. “Coming from two parents in the health field, I have always been very interested in what is going on in my body.” Immersed in the world of healthcare from a young age, she doesn’t just drink what she’s seen on those hospital visits, but fills her free time reading medical encyclopedias.
Teaching women about their bodies is a form of healing that brings together her passions for connection and deep learning. “It’s such an innate thing,” she explained. “It’s an innate desire to support people in a way that will help them support themselves, like, you know, giving them a fishing rod to go catch their own fish.”
Chidi believes that in order to have a healthy and independent sexual and reproductive life, you need to have all the information you need, but it also depends on being listened to, supported and cared for as a whole.
“In the biomedical model, there is not a lot of time for access between a patient and his provider,” she stressed. As she has seen in her doula work, in the context of pregnancy and childbirth, “this ongoing support creates security and helps a pregnant person feel like they are not alone.”
Not everyone has access to this support under the current health care system. Loom seeks to bridge this gap by helping women learn about and advocate for the care they need. “For me, Loom’s goal is to truly be that partner of women through their sexual and reproductive health experiences and to deliver education in a compassionate, human-centered and strategic manner,” she explained. . “When someone takes our class I wish they could ask more clearly what they need and feel like a whole person because they might now have some missing information that was preventing them from coming. feel completely present. in their own life or in their own experience.
It’s a complex but urgent proposition in a broken American healthcare system – especially for black women, who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women. Everyone wants the same knowledge and understanding of their sexual and reproductive health care needs – but not everyone lives with the brunt of medical and environmental racism, nor faces the same barriers to care. quality.
In addition to expanding Loom’s resources to a more accessible online platform, Chidi explored more targeted ways to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for black women. With Stanford professor Dr Erica Cahill, she published a guide to Black Maternal Care in The New York Times, intended for use by patients and caregivers to alleviate unconscious stigma and focus on the complications black pregnant women face at higher rates (like preeclampsia) . Now, she says, they’re working on research to improve the guide before they finally try to test it in a clinical setting.
“I never really left my mind that I can’t start a business or a business or change the culture without bringing in my employees and trying to protect them at the same time,” Chidi said. “I have always been here for black women and I will always be there.”