It wasn’t just any Sunday at Nazarene Baptist Church in East Baltimore.
Dressed in their purple Sunday best, congregants pinned purple ribbons on each other’s lapels and passed out fans that doubled as fact sheets.
When the Rev. Alphonzo Davis stood before the dozens gathered on April 7, he admired his congregation: “Praise the Lord for all of you and all of you look good in your purple.”
Local church leaders were asked on Sunday to use their influential positions to teach families how to keep babies safe and healthy, and the scene at Nazarene was repeated in 80 churches across the region with nearly 20,000 congregants.
The key messages revolve around the ABCDs of safe sleep: Babies should sleep alone, on their back and in a crib in a house where people don’t smoke. B’more for Healthy Babies provides education, resources, and services to support parents and caregivers in the areas of mental health and stress, parenting, early childhood development, nutrition and more.
Participating churches received a packet that included talking points for the pastor to incorporate into his or her sermon and bulletin inserts, paper fans extolling the ABCDs of safe sleep and purple ribbons to wear as a sign of solidarity with other churches. And everyone, of course, was encouraged to wear purple – Baltimore’s favorite color and the color of the much-loved local football team.
Rev. Davis says he doesn’t just save his messages of safe sleep for Precious Purple Sunday. He says he preaches about it regularly at services, in church school, in Bible study throughout the year.
“We want to be part of the solution to help educate our families about this epidemic not only in Baltimore but throughout the nation,” Davis says. His community has many new mothers and they don’t always have all the resources they need. Often, for example, he hears that new moms sleep with their children because it can be easier that way.
“You’d be surprised how many people say ‘we didn’t know anything was wrong with that’.”
This is Olivia Jackson, an associate minister at Nazarene. She says that young mothers go through so much in such a short time: pregnancy, childbirth and then learning how to care for their newborn babies, a job that comes without an instruction manual.
“Education is our best ammunition against losing children,” she said. “A lot of young mothers don’t have a lot of people to guide them.” The church, she says, can fill in the gaps.
This is Liseli Gross. She attended church on Sunday with her two children, ages nine and five.
“The stories you hear are all scary,” she says. “With both of my children, from the moment they came into the world until they were six or eight months, I had a tendency to constantly check to see if they were breathing.”
Gross says it’s important for mothers who do know about safe sleep to share what they know with any other young mothers they encounter.
“You can never be too safe,” she says.
Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, acting Baltimore City health commissioner, agrees. “As a result of the efforts of the B’more for Healthy Babies initiative, this year in Baltimore at least 30 more babies will celebrate their first year than did in 2009,” she says.