Kathryn Hall-Trujillo

Ashoka Fellow
Taos, New Mexico, United States
Fellow Since 2007


This profile was prepared when Kathryn Hall-Trujillo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Kathryn is creating a new social support role for black women in America. She has recognized that the moment of pregnancy—a time when even women engaging in the riskiest behaviors may be open to change—is a prime opportunity to pair the most vulnerable young black women with a decision-making partner. To this end, the Birthing Project mobilizes African American women to assume this partnership role, taking responsibility for the future of an at-risk pregnant woman and her baby through, at minimum, the baby’s first birthday. Kathryn notes that there is a “magic” of sorts in this “SisterFriend” relationship, an emotional connection that opens women to change, which emerges when women come together to support each other. But the origins of this effect are no mystery. Kathryn has carefully engineered a series of activities and encounters designed to encourage empathy and openness between sisters.

Together, “SisterFriends” take on the health care monolith and the “little sisters” personal situations, doing whatever it takes—from drug rehab and regular doctor’s visits to planning and problem solving—to ensure a healthy baby and a mother prepared for stable motherhood. This partnership goes beyond the practical aspects of healthier newborns. The “big sister” role is designed to help a young, pregnant woman take action towards protecting her baby’s health and future. The process of birth then becomes a moment of hope and pride for women who have had much more experience with failure. As a result, Kathryn’s work gives children the chance to be born to, and to grow up with, mothers committed to their health and well-being. And it positions black women across the country to speak for their sisters—women with no voice in their own health care system.

Support and hope may be hard to measure, but Kathryn’s results are not: The Birthing Project works. Birthing Project babies tend to weigh an average of 7.5 pounds compared to a 6.5-pound average for African American babies. This key indicator traces to gestation periods of 40 weeks compared to the 38 week-term babies that African American women deliver on average. Evaluations also show that Birthing Project women attend 80 percent of their prenatal appointments after being matched with a SisterFriend and 70 percent of their postpartum appointments, as compared to about 35 percent and 40 percent in the target population.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You