Infant mortality is a silent killer among African-American babies in Baltimore City; it is a widespread problem that took the lives of 14.3 of every 1,000 Black babies born in 2008.

To get the word out, Baltimore City Healthy Start hosted its third annual Cradle of Hope luncheon to underscore the importance of comprehensive health services for pregnant, postpartum and interconceptional women. Actors Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe were keynote speakers at last Friday’s event, and shared why Healthy Start’s mission is personal to them.

“My husband and I had our first child and when she was born the doctor and the nurses took her away from me very quickly and they found a dimple on her back, low on her spine,” said the Baltimore native, who plays a litigator in the ABC drama “The Deep End.” “They told me it was spina bifida and of course I didn’t even know how to spell spina bifida.”

Five-year-old Sophie was born with the neurological birth defect of the spine that occurs within the first three weeks of conception. Its effects vary but have left some children with brain damage or confined to wheelchairs. However, Sophie functions just like other children her age—for the most part.

“We have to catheterize her every three hours,” Parker said.

Even with good healthcare, Parker was unaware that her body required 3 milligrams of folic acid to produce a health baby as opposed to the 1 milligram that most women need. Had she known, her child might not have been born with the 75 percent preventable condition.

“It’s never too late to start eating right and doing right and passing that information on to the young women in your life, because they deserve it,” she said. “I’m standing here as living proof that prevention is the most important thing we can think about. You have to listen to your doctors and take responsibility for yourself.”

Parker and Kodjoe started Sophie’s Voice Foundation a year and a half ago to support family outreach programs, prenatal education and surgical studies for children and adults with spina bifida. The couple is also opening a clinic in Africa to help children who don’t have the same support as Sophie, who takes medication, receives acupuncture massages and maintains a healthy diet. But Kodjoe echoed his wife’s sentiments by saying the immediate effects of spina bifida are not as important as its preventive methods.

“Before a child is born, the mother has to be made aware of the things that are important in order to birth a healthy child, and that’s where we come in,” said Kodjoe, who recently landed lead role in NBC’s “Undercovers.” “Each one of us has to make a commitment to a healthy life, and that starts with what we eat. Now is the time to really make a difference, and not wait until we have a who is 3 pounds and we look at each other and go, ‘What happened?’”