Aisha Griffin, owner of Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea Shop, is well aware that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, a number that doubles in Chicago. Initially founded in 2020 to provide quality coffee on the South Side, Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea quickly evolved into a social enterprise that also confronts the deeply personal and systemic disparities in Black maternal health. 

“In our community, we have Dunkin’ [Donuts], Starbucks, or McDonald’s. My husband hated having to travel way [up] north to get a good cup of coffee,” Griffin recounted, giving the reason why she opened her first brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Auburn-Gresham. “After opening, we decided to make causes near and dear to us to drive our business. One of those was maternal health and wellness.” 

Although Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea relocated from Auburn-Gresham to Beverly in 2022 due to lease renewal issues, the move didn’t stop the shop’s advocacy and support for Black maternal health. This summer, Griffin will host a birthing series at its Beverly location, 1818 W. 99th St., which once housed City Grange, a garden center. The series will be free to the public.

Partnerships with organizations like the Chicago Birthworks Collective and the University of Illinois Chicago’s Midwifery Unit have enabled Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea to host more than ten events over the past three years and create forums for Black expecting mothers to engage in birthing information sessions, lactation and ultrasound consultations, and dance workshops focused on birth, enriching the programs and establishing a supportive network.

“We’ve been taught that there’s only one way to give birth, yet the truth is your comfort is paramount, and you hold the power. This belief forms one of our core pillars. To embody this, we’ve introduced birthing classes covering the differences between water births and hospital births,” Griffin shared. “It’s all part of easing into the new normal that comes with having a baby,” Griffin shares.

Back in 2020, when Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea first opened, Griffin was pregnant with her first child. Like other Black moms-to-be, Griffin’s first pregnancy was overshadowed by fear. 

“I was completely petrified and realized there was a lack of pregnancy-related education and effective dissemination. After extensive research, I wanted to share what I learned with other women and help them discover their choices when it comes to birthing,” Griffin told The TRiiBE.

A pivotal moment occurred in 2020, when Griffin met Tayo Mbande, a doula and co-owner of Chicago Birthworks Collective. She was researching the difference between doulas and midwives for the birth of her first child, and Mbande was looking for a space to host Black maternity events. Griffin wanted to share what she’d learn from Mbande and her experiences as a mom-to-be. That connection not only transformed Griffin’s pregnancy experience, but also led to Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea partnering with the Chicago Birthworks Collective, which aims to enhance maternal outcomes and strengthen communities of color through care, education, and advocacy. 

Together, in September 2021 they launched A Black Birth Pop-Up: A Black Maternal Wellness Fair, an event dedicated to celebrating and supporting Black maternal health that would kick off subsequent programs by the duo. That event brought together healthcare professionals, wellness experts and community leaders to provide resources, knowledge and support tailored to the unique experiences of Black mothers and families. 

Since then, Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea has initiated several maternal-focused community programs, including Tea & Boobs, a Black Birth Pop-Up, a Black Birthworker Meetup, and Birth Classes; all of which still take place at the shop today.

Afro Joe's Coffee & Tea, a southside cafe in the Beverly neighborhood.
Afro Joe's Coffee & Tea is a café owned by Aisha and Kendall Griffin, located in the Southside neighborhood of Beverly. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE®

For the birth of Griffin’s first child, she chose the midwifery unit at the University of Chicago. In highlighting the importance of doulas and midwives, Griffin shared that doulas provide essential non-medical support, focusing on emotional and physical comfort. In contrast, midwives manage comprehensive medical care throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

“In the Black community, there’s a significant ‘unlearning curve’ related to understanding the numerous options available for childbirth. Whether you wish to have your baby at home or in a hospital, it’s crucial to know what you want,” Griffin said. “Recognizing that you have options is one of the most important steps. What are your plans if you go to the hospital? Would you prefer to be sedated if necessary? Who do you want present in the room with you? We’re simply not having enough discussions about these choices.” 

Access to options can be a matter of life or death. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Illinois Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Report, 43% of women who died while pregnant, or within one year of pregnancy, died from a cause related to pregnancy.

After the relocation to Beverly in 2022, Griffin established a connection with renowned midwife Ms. Karen, affectionately called “the OG of midwives,” who encouraged her to consider home birth for her second child. 

“I’ll never give birth in a hospital again. That’s how amazing my experience was,” Griffin said. 

“At the time of [our] reopening [in Beverly], I was seven months pregnant,” Griffin said about her second pregnancy. “The interactions I had with people from different backgrounds, who were very knowledgeable, revealed new community needs and enriched our conversations.” 

One community need is improved access to local maternal health resources. During Griffin’s first pregnancy, she spent a lot of time traveling to Oak Park, about a 45-minute to an hour drive from Auburn-Gresham, because that’s where birth-related resources were located. This experience, along with hearing about other women navigating the complexities of insurance coverage for maternal procedures, fostered Griffin’s growing awareness of socio-economic barriers to childbirth.

“Black Maternal health, just like Black maternal wellness, is communal and is a community health issue. Everyone is responsible and has the opportunity to improve the long-term and immediate outcomes for Black birthing people and their families,” Mbande told The TRiiBE. “Spaces like Afro Joe’s are doing more than their share when it comes to making safe and transformative spaces for Black parents to find community and opportunities for wellness. We are so grateful to bring maternal wellness into the community through our relationship with Afro Joe’s and the Afro Joe’s community.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE