*trigger warning: mention of death


Say her name.

Frentorish “Tori” Bowie. 

Dr. Shalon Irving. 

Tatia Oden French. 

Kira Dixon Johnson. 

Yolanda “Shiphrah” Kadima. 

Amber Rose Isaac.

The list could continue extensively.


I lead with these women’s names because sometimes they get lost in the horrific statistics that that show a Black women is almost 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes than a non-Hispanic white women (Craft-Blacksheare & Kahn, 2023). The maternal mortality rate for Black women in 2021 was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births (Hoyert, 2023) with 393 deaths in 2019 alone (Fleszar et al., 2023), and most of these maternal deaths were deemed preventable (Fleszar et al., 2023). Further, Black newborns are over two times greater to die in their first year than white newborns. The role of racism in these preventable deaths is highlighted in the fact that the mortality rate of infants of college-educated African American mothers experience an infant mortality rate that is greater than those of white women with a high school degree or less (Fishman et al., 2020), where Black infant mortality is halved when treated by a Black physician in comparison to a white physician (Greenwood et al., 2020). We often use statistics to tell a story, but they are inadequate in showing the women and infants who lost their lives and leave behind many to grieve. Statistics are important but we cannot let the statistics drown out the reality of these individual women. So we will continue to say their names and tell their stories.


Winning the title of the fastest woman in the world at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London a year after becoming a three-time Olympic medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, sprinter Tori Bowie radiated a symbol of “elite physical fitness” (Chuck & McShane, 2023). On top of her immense speed, Tori was known around for her generosity and was found visiting foster homes three to four times a year across Florida and Mississippi to give gifts and spend time with the children (Minsberg, 2023). Unfortunately, though, her generosity and silver, bronze, and gold olympic medals were not enough to protect her from the systemic racism that increases the risk for maternal mortality among Black women in the United States. Tori Bowie passed away on May 2nd, 2023 at age 32 while eight months pregnant and found in labor (Minsberg, 2023). Her autopsy lists respiratory distress and eclampsia which is a dangerous condition within pregnancy beginning with high blood pressure which can evolve to severe complications including seizures and a coma (Macon, 2023; Minsberg, 2023).


Unfortunately, Tori Bowie is far from the only Black pregnant women suffering this fate. Shannon Miller spoke to the loved ones of six Black women who died because of pregnancy-related complications (Miller, 2020). Kira Dixon Johnson died at age 39 on April 13th, 2016 after internal bleeding after a routine C-section. Dr. Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist studying the very topic of how structural inequality impacted health outcomes, died at age 36 on January 28th, 2017 just three weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Soleil. Amber Rose Isaac died at age 26 on April 21st, 2020 after an emergency C-section. Yolanda “Shiphrah” Kadima died at age 35 on July 27th, 2020 just three days after her C-section of her twins. Tatia Oden French died at age 32 alongside her baby daughter in childbirth in December of 2001.


“We’re dealing with a Black Maternal Health crisis. Here you have three Olympic champions, and we’re still at risk” – Allyson Felix


Allyson Felix, a former U.S. Track and Field teammate of Tori, reflected about Tori as “effortless” and “such a bright light” (Felix, 2023). Allyson, too, developed preeclampsia during her pregnancy with her daughter Camryn who was born in November of 2018. She went on to deliver her daughter within an emergency C-section at 32 weeks uncertain if she would even make it (Unexpected Pregnancy Complications: Allyson Felix’s Story, 2023). Thankfully, Allyson lives to see her daughter grow and advocate for awareness. She has joined the CDC’s Hear Her Campaign to share her story and help educate about the urgent warning signs of pregnancy-related complications. Allyson reflects that she “[hates] that it takes Tori’s situation to put this back on the map… but oftentimes, we need that wake-up call” (Felix, 2023). She calls for the stories of women dying to be heard and for doctors “to hear the pain of Black women” (Felix, 2023).


“I’m hopeful that things can get better. I’m hopeful that Tori, who stood on the podium at Rio, gold around her neck and sweetness in her soul, won’t die in vain” – Allyson Felix


We must not let Tori Bowie die in vain. We cannot stop saying the names of these far too many Black women who have died at the hands of systemic racism and health injustice. This inequality must be ended.




  • Check out more information about Social Determinants of Health and social and economic inequities rooted from structural racism (Hill et al., 2022).



Chuck, E., & McShane, J. (2023, June 14). Before dying of pregnancy complications, Tori Bowie was excited to become a mom. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tori-bowie-death-pregnancy-complications-become-mom-rcna89248

Craft-Blacksheare, M., & Kahn, P. (2023). Midwives’ and Other Perinatal Health Workers’ Perceptions of the Black Maternal Mortality Crisis in the United States. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 68(1), 62–70. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.13433

Felix, A. (2023, June 15). Allyson Felix: Tori Bowie Can’t Die In Vain. Time. https://time.com/6287392/tori-bowie-allyson-felix-black-maternal-health/

Fishman, S. H., Hummer, R. A., Sierra, G., Hargrove, T., Powers, D. A., & Rogers, R. G. (2020). Race/Ethnicity, Maternal Educational Attainment, and Infant Mortality in the United States. Biodemography and Social Biology, 66(1), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/19485565.2020.1793659

Fleszar, L. G., Bryant, A. S., Johnson, C. O., Blacker, B. F., Aravkin, A., Baumann, M., Dwyer-Lindgren, L., Kelly, Y. O., Maass, K., Zheng, P., & Roth, G. A. (2023). Trends in State-Level Maternal Mortality by Racial and Ethnic Group in the United States. JAMA, 330(1), 52–61. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2023.9043

Greenwood, B. N., Hardeman, R. R., Huang, L., & Sojourner, A. (2020). Physician–patient racial concordance and disparities in birthing mortality for newborns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(35), 21194–21200. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1913405117

Hill, L., Artiga, S., & Ranji. (2022, November 1). Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health: Current Status and Efforts to Address Them. KFF. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/racial-disparities-in-maternal-and-infant-health-current-status-and-efforts-to-address-them/

Hoyert, D. (2023, March 16). Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2021/maternal-mortality-rates-2021.htm

Macon, B. (2023, July 3). Eclampsia: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/eclampsia

Miller, S. (2020, November 3). Black Women Who’ve Died in Childbirth Won’t Be Forgotten. Glamour. https://www.glamour.com/story/black-women-whove-died-in-childbirth-wont-be-forgotten

Minsberg, T. (2023, June 13). Track Star Tori Bowie Died in Childbirth. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/13/sports/olympics/tori-bowie-death-childbirth-pregnant.html

Njoku, A., Evans, M., Nimo-Sefah, L., & Bailey, J. (2023). Listen to the Whispers before They Become Screams: Addressing Black Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in the United States. Healthcare, 11(3), 438. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare11030438

Unexpected Pregnancy Complications: Allyson Felix’s Story. (2023, March 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HEAR HER Campaign. https://www.cdc.gov/hearher/allysonfelix/index.html

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