Maternal mental health is something that gets overlooked quite frequently. Mothers, especially new mothers, are expected to instantly be strong, nurturing, and mentally ready for their new baby, but that’s not always the case. So, WorkingGroup512 (WG512), a local group tackling multiple issues, from social injustice reform to community food programs, started the Maternal Mental Health Initiative (MMHI) to help these women get the resources and support they need.
I recently spoke with Chivas Watson, the founder of WWG512. He’s attempting to better spread the word about the program so even more women can be helped.
Hi! Thank you for speaking with me. I’m so happy to be able to help get the word out about this initiative. I have a few questions I’d like to ask to learn more about the program. So, tell me.
What inspired this initiative?
It was a culmination of events. I have a tenured history of fighting against the Black maternal mortality rate. About 5 years ago, I joined one of our only local support groups for this, Black Mamas ATX. I was the only man working with them back in 2017 or 2018. I think it’s our obligation as Black men to help, support, and stand with Black women. It’s our job to look and see where we can help.
We started our food access program in 2020. After 4 months of service, we gathered a lot of data about the deficit of resources for mothers in the community. At the beginning of 2021, I told my group we have to do more than just provide food. That brings us to the table, but we need to do more.
In January 2021, we created the #MomFirstInitiative, identifying all the moms. We established subgroups: post-partum, elderly, expecting, multi-generational, etc.
Then, the winter storm hit. So we shifted to providing resources to moms for that. I then joined Austin Mutual Aid as an operational liaison and was able to crowdfund WWG512.
With that, we were able to identify those most in need to provide help, supplies, resources, etc., to them first. We then started Furniture Replacement Initiative (FRI), providing or replacing furniture in mothers’ homes. We’ve replaced the furniture in over 150 homes since the start of that program.
The majority of the moms in our initiative were originally delinquent in their rent. So we added that to the initiative. Whenever we saw a lack, we leaned into helping that need. I believe that there are 4 pillars of health: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental. So we decided to start focusing on the mental health of the mothers we work with and hope to work with as well.
Wow, that’s amazing, and the group has done all this in less than 2 years! So, what previous experience do you have in this field?
As a man who’s had a negative past on my part with women, I decided the only way to make amends and to heal is to help however I can. We don’t do independent men or women help in our group. We work together to restore the Black family as a whole.
There are only a few local groups working to help Black mothers currently. So we thought why not help as well, filling the voids from the other groups. Several existing approaches were solely transactional. So we wanted to be more personal in our attempts.
WWG512 has donated over 175,000 items across 4 counties so far.
It’s always great to use past mistakes as motivation to better yourself. Tell me more about WWG512.
We are a Central Texas service provider that’s intimately involved in our community in Austin and throughout Texas. We specialize in equity, committed to improving the delivery of justice. In 2 yrs, we’ve focused on food access, direct service (cash), rent assistance, community resilience, and restorative justice, criminal justice reform and re-entry, policy reform, research, data science, youth mentoring, youth and adult education, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, public advocacy, healing and trauma work, mutual aid, and combatting homelessness. WWG512 has donated over 175,000 items across 4 counties so far. [400k as of July 2022.]
We’ve remained independently operable, without being a tax-exempt organization, by being rewarded 9 of the 10 grants we’ve applied to and gaining 10 procurements in the last 10 months.
We strive to improve justice any and everywhere to ensure our children don’t have the same experiences we had growing up and still as adults. We’re currently building a legal reform team so we (the community) can retain our power and create our own peace.
Have you faced any obstacles as a man spearheading this initiative?
Absolutely. I’ve met criticisms, conflicts, and doubts about the purity of my intentions and investments, as well as my why’s. Some people have said, “He’s had issues with women in the past! It doesn’t seem right to have him work with new and expecting mothers!”
Some groups don’t even want to collaborate with us or give us access to resources because I’m a man. I can appreciate that sentiment, but the only way I can resolve my errors is by overcoming them, not by ignoring them or denying people access.
I know any skepticism my way isn’t just for me. 1 in 3 black men has felonies. Black women are growing to be one of the largest demographics in the carceral landscape. So I’ll take the skepticism and use it as a catalyst to keep moving forward in this mission.
Once you say what you want about me, can I then talk to you about the women we’ve helped and served?
Where can mothers and expectant mothers get more information about the program?
Mothers can contact us by filling out our interest form online or through the hashtags #workinggroup512 and #mmhi on social media. We’re #workinggroup512 on Facebook and @512Oz on Twitter and @workinggroup512 on Instagram.
We’re located in East Austin and Northeast Austin, partnering with the only Black woman-owned farm in Travis county, Dobbin Kauv Garden Farm. People can meet us, as well as the owner, Tiffany Washington, there.
Moving forward, what are your goals for MMHI?
MMHI will center Black mothers in our efforts to advocate for them. We will sponsor 10 Black moms that are expecting, new or postpartum or are caring for children. We’ll provide formula, diapers, maternal clothes, and baby items.
We’ll host a safe space for those moms at Tiffany’s farm, where she will operate some of her maternal courses (Mommies & Me, for example). It’s a safe space to talk about all things.
Though only the 10 sponsored moms are welcome on-site, we hope to open the space virtually so others can learn and take away from the conversations to build the proximity of this movement. That way places outside the state and region can hopefully start similar programs in their areas to support Black mothers as well.
I want to thank Chivas again for his time and also for his commitment and dedication to this cause. If you’re a new mother, caregiver, or know someone who could benefit from these offerings and resources, don’t hesitate to contact WorkingGroup512.