Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation Awards Additional $300,000 to Kent State’s Spirit of Motherhood Program to Combat Infant Mortality and Prevent Preterm Births

Grant will enable program to expand its reach in Northeast Ohio, address key risk factors to help Black mothers and children in need

Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D., professor in Kent State University’s Department of Psychological Sciences, is committed to giving Black mothers and their infants and children not only a better chance to survive but also the skills and support they need to thrive. Known affectionately as Dr. Angela in the communities that she serves, Neal-Barnett has been working diligently to build up the Spirit of Motherhood program throughout the Greater Akron area, a multilevel, multigenerational intervention program with the goal of reducing trauma and stress symptoms experienced by its pregnant Black mother participants.

In late 2021, the program received a $100,000 grant from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, allowing Neal-Barnett and her team to hire additional interventionists to assist more mothers. Roughly 75 mothers and their children benefited from the Spirit of Motherhood in its first iteration. As a testament to the importance of this work and its confidence in the program, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation recently awarded the Spirit of Motherhood another $300,000 to continue its work over the next three years.

“The entire Spirit of Motherhood team feels this is the most important work we’ve ever done,” Neal-Barnett said. “But it doesn’t work without an entire team behind it. That’s why we’re so honored Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation has trusted us with its support to do this critical work.”

With that grant, Neal-Barnett and her team are working to make the program even more accessible, partnering with Urban Leagues throughout Akron and Canton and expanding their presence in the Cleveland area as well. The Spirit of Motherhood team, which includes doulas, community health workers, licensed therapists, community activists as well as graduate and undergraduate students, anticipates serving another 150 mothers, infants and children by 2026.

The infant mortality rate for Black babies in the U.S. is more than double that of white babies, and the disparity was even greater in Summit and Cuyahoga counties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading causes of infant mortality, which is categorized as any death of a child before reaching the age of one, include birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, injuries and maternal pregnancy complications. Neal-Barnett’s research has found that by addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in mothers through the program, her team helps reduce the physical, emotional and mental strain on them and combats infant mortality by increasing the likelihood of healthier pregnancies and full-term births at a healthy weight.

“Black babies are twice as likely or, in some places, three to four times more likely than white babies to die,” Neal-Barnett said. “That just shouldn’t be the case anywhere in this country.”

The program’s innovative approach combines written exposure therapy, parenting classes and music therapy to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and strengthen the mother-child bonds among participants. Offered in three nonconsecutive five-week sessions, the program has a hybrid format to combat barriers such as securing childcare, finding transportation and other common obstacles. Once they complete the program, mothers also receive follow-ups at three months, six months and one year to assess their progress. It has been a tremendous success so far with those who have completed the program, typically reducing their PTSD symptoms by 50%-100%.

The program also offers a group musical intervention for preschool-aged children to help them learn how to cope with stress and regulate their emotions. While mothers are participating in the Spirit of Motherhood, their children complete the four-session musical intervention at the same time, and the family practices coping skills together.

“Mental health is health,” Neal-Barnett said. “I think what this program has shown is how underdiagnosed and under-assessed mental health difficulties are among Black perinatal women.”

About Kent State University

Kent State University is the highest-ranked public university in northern Ohio on the Top Public Schools and Best National Universities lists by U.S. News & World Report. The university also holds the esteemed distinction of being one of only five institutions in Ohio to be recognized as an R1 top-tier research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Kent State is one of Ohio’s leading public universities and a major educational, economic and cultural resource far beyond the Northeast Ohio region it has served since 1910. The university has a global footprint with eight campuses throughout Northeast Ohio, a College of Podiatric Medicine, a Twinsburg Academic Center and academic sites around the world, including New York City; Florence, Italy; and Curitiba, Brazil. Kent State offers award-winning student support services that help students succeed. Its diverse student body comprises more than 33,500 students, including more than 2,000 international students from 101 countries, and the worldwide alumni family exceeds 273,500. Kent State provides transformational educational experiences and leads with its values, which include kindness, respect and freedom of expression.

For more information about Kent State, visit

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Photo Caption:
Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D. (right), is pictured at the Doula and Community Expo hosted by Birthing Beautiful Communities in April 2024. (Photo provided by Angela Neal-Barnett)

Media Contact:
Angela Neal-Barnett,, 330-672-2266

POSTED: Thursday, April 18, 2024 10:48 AM
Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2024 10:51 AM
Bethany Sava
Photo provided by Angela Neal-Barnett