Congratulations to Mayor Toby Barker, MS, EMHL, Mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for his leadership in establishing mothering rooms in Hattiesburg’s city facilities! These mothering rooms will allow staff members and citizens to have a private, quiet place to nurse or pump. They will include access to electricity, a comfortable chair and be child-friendly. If feasible for the facility, the room will also be in close proximity to a refrigerator and a bathroom. For 2018, Mayor Barker’s vision is to outfit one room per quarter throughout city facilities. For 2019, he is looking at how he can accommodate Hattiesburg’s park systems.
“I believe success begins at the earliest stages of life,” Mayor Barker shares. “If we can teach and empower mothers to engage in everyday practices that are evidence based and healthy, I believe we can see a culture change in regards to public health.”
When Mayor Barker took office in July of 2017, the Mayoral Health Council, comprised of several representatives from healthcare and community organizations, had been established by the previous mayor. Mayor Barker then mobilized this group to implement several initiatives, including the mothering room initiative.
“When we came into office, I met with the council members to create a vision that had a direct impact on our community in a measurable way. I asked them to survey all our city facilities (staff offices, community centers and parks) and to identify where we could move the needle in the terms of a place for mothers to nurse or pump while out at a ballgame, at a neighborhood event or at any one of our many community centers. They put together several items of research that looked at best practices for dedicated nursing rooms in public spaces and a building-by-building assessment of what we could do, realistically,” he says.
Prior to his election as mayor, Mayor Barker served in the Mississippi Legislature for 10 years, and early childhood education, infant mortality, food deserts and breastfeeding were policy areas in which he worked.
“When I became mayor, it gave me a platform to implement some of these strategies directly,” he says.
Mayor Barker’s vision for Hattiesburg is nothing short of excellence: “In every facet - whether economic growth, public health, education or culture - we want Hattiesburg to become a premier city in the Gulf South. We want these things for every part of our city. While a few areas in Hattiesburg are growing rapidly, we still have neighborhoods with pockets of poverty and poor health outcomes.”
What is Mayor Barker’s personal motivation for the mothering room initiative?
He shares: “I have a daughter...and a son on the way. I want the very best for them. I want them to be healthy and educated and to live a better life than me. As I feel the weight of that desire for their well-being, I believe every parent in Hattiesburg wants the same things for their children. If we can help build parenting skillsets that equip men and women to do their best, I believe we’ll see long-lasting and systemic change.”
Thank you for your inspiring leadership, Mayor Barker; may others follow your example!
CHEER Champion of the week
Each Monday (besides public holidays), we will recognize a CHEER Champion for all the work they have done for CHEER (Center for Health Equity, Education, and Research)/CHAMPS (Communities and Hospitals Advancing Maternity Practices).