How One Dad Is Fighting for Black Maternal Health Reform

Omari Maynard shares his story of loss and his journey forward to advocate for change in the healthcare system.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published February 24, 2023
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Image: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet | Shutterstock

Omari Maynard wears many of the same hats all parents do. He’s a professional, a father of two, a loving family member and a loyal friend. But beneath these hats also lies a man who is a passionate advocate for change and a grieving partner who has suffered an unspeakable loss.

In 2019, Maynard lost his partner, Shamony Gibson, to a pulmonary embolism 13 days after she gave birth to their second child. Gibson’s symptoms were ignored by medical professionals and she was turned away twice before going into cardiac arrest at just 30 years old.

Amid the heartache and pain of Gibson’s death, Maynard decided to take action. He established the ARIAH Foundation, which aims to support people impacted by systemic racism in the US maternal healthcare system and also started a support group for Black men who have lost partners to the maternal mortality crisis.

Recently he talked with TODAY about what others can do to help lower the US maternal mortality rate and take better care of Black, brown and indigenous women.

“Our community needs to know,” Maynard told the outlet. “They need to know that there are options, there is support, and that when they’re going into a hospital, they don’t have to do it alone.”

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, and Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-and birth-related complications than white women. In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

Maynard is doing everything he can to honor the mother of his children and raise awareness with his art and with his actions. “A week went by after (Shamony passed), and I started just painting,” he explained. “I was able to really process what I was going through, and thankfully it wasn’t all cerebral — it was more spiritual.”

Maynard’s art has been featured in several galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. He also created a celebration of life for Shamony, called “Aftershock,” which was later documented in a film of the same name.

Maynard is hopeful that change is possible, and he believes that everyone has a role to play in making that change happen. “It’s a fight,” Maynard said. "The army has been created. Now it’s really just about: How can we support each other and be more empathetic? Once that process starts, we can talk about steering and turning the ship.”

“We need as many people to scream as loud as possible,” he said. “We need people to show up in the streets, we need people to vote, we need people to educate themselves, we need people to use their platforms to speak about these issues.”

If you are looking to join the fight for better maternal healthcare you can learn more about the ARIAH Fondation and donate here.

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