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  • Writer's pictureAyanna Robinson

Celebrating the Next Generation of Black Women Researchers - Shantesica Gilliam, MPH

For the last week of Black History Month, we are celebrating the next generation of Black women researchers in breastfeeding and Black maternal health. We believe that Black women have the skills, expertise, and perspectives to address the disparities experienced in our community. We hope you enjoy learning about the incredible contributions of these researchers.

I am a second-generation reader, a first-generation college graduate, and now a first-generation doctoral student. The unique experiences I have gained while navigating through school as a “first” have piqued my passion to promote health equity and justice through public health.

My name is Shantesica Gilliam, MPH and I am a third-year PhD student and doctoral candidate in Health Promotion and Behavior at the University of Georgia. I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Health at the University of Georgia. My research interests include health disparities focusing on trauma, violence, and maternal and reproductive/sexual health. I aspire to have an academic career centered in community-engaged scholarship, where the community are collaborators in research, service, and teaching spaces. I also strive to expand public health knowledge and research to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, being that there are little to no public health graduate programs, majors, or minors at these institutions, I want to give students the opportunity to learn about public health and become advocates of health justice and equity

My introduction to maternal and child health was in high school where I was an intern in the Labor and Delivery, NICU, and Mother/Baby units at the local hospital. As a 17-year-old I witnessed live births, women experiencing infant loss, and postpartum complications. That experience inspired my journey now as a PhD student who aspires to have a line of research focusing on addressing racial trauma/racism and health disparities in maternal and child health, reproductive and sexual health. This work is important to me because historically and systemically Black women have been silenced, neglected, and excluded in research, health care, and reproductive settings. I want to cultivate wellness spaces of support and empowerment where Black women can ultimately have autonomy over their choices, their bodies, and their sexual and birthing experiences. I know that I alone can’t dismantle these systems that have stripped away our autonomy, agency, and voices but I know that I can share the infinite amount of knowledge, tools, and resources I have had the privilege to gain to support and advocate for women. I am also a 200-hour registered yoga teacher and I want to integrate yoga and meditation into my work. This practice has saved my life and I want to share it with the world, I want to see and invite more Black folks, especially moms to the mat.

Currently, I am on a research team for a study called RISEUPP Women (Reducing Intersectional Stress Experiences to Uplift Pregnant and Postpartum Women). The purpose of this study is to explore Black women’s experiences to understand how both racial stress and pandemic-related stress influence their engagement in prenatal and postpartum care. Currently, we are conducting focus groups and interviews to listen and accurately tell the stories of Black moms using the lens of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. The information from the study will be used to provide resources to moms, health care providers, and community organizations to improve maternal health outcomes and perinatal care among Black women in the United States. The study is funded through a mini-grant from the University of Georgia College of Public Health’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. I want to acknowledge and give gratitude to members of the research team: Kandyce Hylick, Erica Taylor, Dominique La Barrie, Emily Hatchett, Morgan Finch, Yashaswini Kavalakuntla, and our faculty advisor, Dr. Nathan Hansen. I’m excited to see what we will learn from this research and hopefully, this will be a step towards progress in improving maternal health outcomes and expanding maternal health research.

If you would like to participate in this study, please complete the survey screener at the following link:

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