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A grandpa and his little grandson
By Lisa Loving | The Skanner News
Published: 13 November 2014

Clyde Ransom and Carter, 4, at the Urban League Senior Center. The Healthy Birth Initiative aims towards wrapping more and better services around the entire community, not just moms. Helen Silvis photo

The resurgence of old timey dance forms is transforming into an avenue for supporting healthy families through the Multnomah County Healthy Birth Initiative.

Portland’s Groovin’ High Steppers -- a Chicago high steppers dance club -- are turning out this weekend, Nov. 15 and 16, hosting fundraisers at the Colwood Golf Center, 7313 NE Columbia Blvd., for the county’s targeted program to increase healthy birth outcomes for black families in the metro area.

Specifically, says event organizer Denise Johnson, the funds raised this weekend go towards the County’s father-education component. The club hopes to raise $3,000.

Johnson, who also happens to be the Health Promotion Coordinator at Care Oregon, says that community service has been part of the Groovin’ High Steppers’ mission since it was founded two years ago; proving a fun and healthy way to exercise -- in the style of the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug and the Bop -- is another goal of the group.

They decided to “adopt” the Multnomah County healthy birth program as a community project after reports were released showing that the African American infant mortality rate in Multnomah County is twice the rate of white babies – meaning that twice as many black babies die before they are a year old. 

“I can identify with working with high risk African American women and trying to improve birth outcomes,” Johnson says. “And so this year’s project was particularly exciting because, although they received a recent wonderful grant, there is no grant funding specific to the men’s component.”

The healthy birth program’s fathering programs address positive parenting, mentorship, training on how to job search, and ways for improving relationships with their children as well as with their mates.

“So oftentimes women will experience stress during their pregnancy when they don’t have a stable relationship,” Johnson says. “This program gives skills to the men so they can be supportive of their spouse.”

Healthier Babies

The County’s Healthy Birth Initiatives received a significant $3 million grant in September through the federal ACHIEVE program (Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change), which is set not only to improve birth outcomes for African American babies but also their families – funding specific outreach programs about how to stop smoking, how to eat better and get more exercise, the program is likely to improve the health of adults as well as infants.

“This grant is doing things we have been doing with a focus on, and acknowledgement of, the need to implement culturally specific approaches for African Americans,” according to Healthy Birth Initiatives Program Director Rachael Banks. “We can't keep doing things the same way because the disparities are getting bigger. 

“In order to truly support a mother, we must acknowledge the role her environment, neighborhood, plays in her life,” Banks says.  “Also, in the work we do with Healthy Birth Initiatives, we hear time and time again that while moms are important, we can't focus solely on mothers, we need an approach that encompasses the whole family and spans from infants to elders.”

Banks says the program’s approach is to cover the life course of black children -- from cradle (breastfeeding, policies in childcare centers, smoking cessation for pregnant women) throughout life (worksites, transportation policies, faith settings).

The bottom line is that Multnomah County Health Department is tripling the amount of services provided to pregnant African American/Black moms through the Healthy Birth Initiative. 

“In HBI, we do wrap services around the mom, but no amount of services that we wrap around an individual is going to get to the structural and environmental barriers she may face,” Banks says. 

Dancing for Fun and Health

This mission dovetails with the Groovin’ High Steppers, where the music is hot and the dance steps are fast – but not too fast for everyday people.

“We have classes twice a week, our class is targeted towards beginners, so if you know absolutely nothing about Chicago Stepping these classes are perfect for you,” Johnson says.

The group holds classes every Friday at the Billy Webb Elks Lodge from 630-8:30, and at the Rockwood Community Center on NE 181 every first second and third Mondays of the month.

“Your first two lessons are free, to give the people an opportunity to come in try it out, no risk,” Johnson says. “But once they get in they get hooked.”

The Groovin’ High Steppers’ weekend fundraiser starts with a “meet and greet,” Saturday, Nov. 15 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. with dominoes and bid whist tournaments (small entry fee and prizes). A DJ will play R&B, neo-soul and jazz for dancing, Chicago Steppin’, line dancing and listening.  The attire is casual and light hors d’oeuvres will be served.

The main event, Saturday, Nov. 15 from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. with music host  DJ George, spinning sophisticated R&B, Neo-Soul & Jazz for your dancing, Chicago Steppin’, line dancing and listening pleasure.  The attire is dress to impress and hearty hors d’oeuvres will be served.

On Sunday, Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. is  a farewell dance set and brunch.

Tickets may be purchased and donations made online at www.groovinhighsteppers.com through PayPal (select the NEWS tab and EVENTS drop-down).

For more information go to www.groovinhighsteppers.com. For more on the Healthy Birth Initiative, click here.

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