For Quatia Osorio ’04, the Urban Perinatal Education Center in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is a manifestation of what it means to dream big.
“This is a culmination of what is feasible if you really believe, what is attainable if you persevere,” says Osorio, who launched the center in February of 2022 to address maternal care and outcome disparities for pregnant and postpartum women of color in Rhode Island.
As a mother of five, a licensed doula, and a community health worker, Osorio understands the challenges Black and brown mothers face amid a medical system that fails to serve their needs. She built the Urban Perinatal Education Center (UPEC) with them in mind, offering pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and newborn care classes in both English and Spanish.
“It needs to look like us and feel like us,” she says. “And when people come here, they're going to see us. And there's no judgment. There's just that cultural nuance of sheer lived experience and the complexity of what it's like to be a Black person, a Black woman, in the United States, in Rhode Island.”
A Rhode Island native, Osorio attended Bryant during a period of social reckoning and change kickstarted by Enron’s collapse and the events of September 11, 2001. It was a time of challenge and personal growth for Osorio, as well.
“I had three kids by the time I graduated,” she recalls. Pregnant while living on campus, Osorio entered preterm labor during the academic year and negotiated a special arrangement to stay on campus in the dormitory, then known as Hall 6, while maintaining a busy academic schedule until delivery.
“My freedom fighting energy really started at Bryant."
Her favorite Bryant classes, she says, focused on practical information that prepared her for her career after Bryant. As a Black woman at a predominantly white institution, she learned other real-life skills outside the classroom. She and her peers engaged through BroSis, a platform for students of color to discuss pertinent issues on campus relating to discrimination, bias, and conflict resolution to support each other and navigate academia together.
“My freedom fighting energy really started at Bryant,” she says. “So many times, we got into arguments with the administration about diversity issues on campus and tried to make it better.”
After graduating from Bryant with a Bachelor of Science in Management, Osorio spent several years raising her children at home. Her experiences of birth and motherhood, supported all the way by Black doulas and midwives, sparked her interest in Black women’s perinatal care.
“What does it look like to show up for Black and brown people in our community?” she asks. “A lot of it is holding space, listening to what they need, and understanding the complexities of their lives to get them the resources that they need.”
She became a practicing doula herself and, seeing the profound need for more women’s healthcare advocates in Rhode Island, she took an interest in training other women as doulas. “My first training had 26 people,” she recalls with a smile.
The momentum continued to build as she formed collectives, organized political activism, and brought together healthcare providers from a range of disciplines to solve critical problems facing pregnant Black women and families. She continued her education all the while, earning numerous professional certifications, including in Human Resources Development from Bryant in 2015, and a second bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration from Philadelphia University in 2022.
At a community-focused healthcare training in 2019, she met Jennie Joseph, a prominent national advocate for midwifery and women’s health. “I had written on my bucket list, ‘I would love to meet Jennie Joseph,’ ” says Osorio. “And then there she was.” Osorio and Joseph quickly formed a mentoring relationship, and Joseph brought her into the National Perinatal Task Force (NPTF), a group of advocates founded by Joseph that aims to eliminate racial and class disparities in birth outcomes.
Through her work with the NPTF, Osorio gained a new understanding of the need for physical perinatal “safe spots” in areas with historically poor maternal health outcomes. In Rhode Island, Black women have adverse pregnancy outcomes at a greater rate than white women, a disparity that holds across lines of socioeconomic status and education.
"We didn't have to do it the typical nonprofit way. We could do it under love and justice and liberation and freedom and say that it's Black.”
The Urban Perinatal Education Center was Osorio’s solution. Though UPEC began as an online pilot program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Osorio always wanted UPEC to occupy a permanent physical space. Last February, that dream became a reality when UPEC purchased a red Victorian on Cottage Street in Pawtucket. The ribbon cutting was in July.
“I'm not going to rent,” she says, “because Black people are worth an investment. We deserve to have something that's ours, that we own.”
Osorio strives to be a mentor to the next generation of doulas and healthcare advocates, just as Joseph is for her. She understands the importance of using her platform and position of power to inspire those around her. “Everyone who worked on this building was Black,” she says proudly. “My advisory committee is all dope, phenomenal Black women who are leading radical revolutionary movements in maternal health. We didn't have to do it the typical nonprofit way. We could do it under love and justice and liberation and freedom and say that it's Black.”
Blending her vision for equity with her business savvy, Osorio always keeps an eye on the future. “Even upon opening, I'm looking for my successor,” she says, “because that's part of how businesses continue to grow and thrive.”
Driven to build a more equitable healthcare system, Osorio often thinks of her long-term impact on the community. “Permission to give Black and brown people choice in a way that is not constrictive or restrictive but allows them liberation, freedom, and love is what I would like to leave as my legacy.
"And if I can,” she adds, “I'm definitely going to put my name on it.”
To learn more about the Urban Perinatal Education Center, visit urbanperinatal.org