It was an honor to be asked to speak at the first ever ROSE Summit at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA, this year. To be among people who are committed to eradicating the disparities that plague our ‘sisters everywhere,’ and address the issues in breastfeeding rates, is necessary and inspiring. ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere) organized the Summit in order to highlight the disparities that are directly related to lack of breastfeeding in Black and African American communities, and it’s founder, Kim Bugg, is passionate about this initiative.
Though there has been progress, according to various data sources, including recent federal and state reports, the overwhelming amount of information supports that African American women continue to rank low in breastfeeding initiation and duration, and the goal of this recent Summit was to highlight this discrepancy and bring together experts and advocates to find ways to improve access for mothers and help end these by “Reclaiming an African American Tradition” – the theme of the event, making breastfeeding the biological and social norm.
The Summit was held July 19-20, and brought together community organizers, healthcare professionals, and local and national advocates to present information on ways they work to counter these disparities and some projections for the future. Among them were David Satcher, M.D., PhD – the 16th U.S. Surgeon General and Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, who was also the keynote speaker and stressed breastfeeding as one of the most important contributors to infant health. Dr. Satcher underscored education as one of the main components in working to end the disproportionate amount of Black babies not receiving breastmilk, and also focused on the need to develop a diverse group of exceptional health leaders in order to combat this and reach our goals. He discussed what it means to draw this crowd in, and emphasized the need to create a strategy in order to pass the ideas of guidance and direction onto the next generation of leaders, making the necessary impact, which will be instrumental in effecting trans-generational change. There were also two panel discussion groups, whose ideas ranged from creating spaces specific to lactation in workplaces to educator and architects, as well as showing ways to engage new fathers on the importance of breastmilk and creative ways to support the women in their life.
My presentation, Occupy the Bridge: Looking Past Protagonists and Re-Working the Center, focused on involving more community members. The main idea was to explore the historical, social and political aspects of Black breastfeeding support – what that has looked like and ways to change that perspective, and emphasized why we need to look beyond the normalized image of the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad, in order to bridge the gap in the overall community. I was really excited to present this information via an anthropological perspective for two reasons; one is I wholeheartedly believe anthropology is key to understanding and addressing many issues that face our society – and for me, having this viewpoint in the field of human lactation is rare, which is the main idea for my second reason for being excited: to use these tools to shine a much-needed light on the discipline and put this in a much more public arena – since for many people anthropology is still an enigma – something many simply do not understand, and making anthropology more public is the goal of many who practice the discipline.
Here is the complete list of speakers along with the titles of their presentations:
Yvonne Bronner, Sc.D – Engaging Fathers in Breastfeeding Promotion for African American Women
Joshua Johannson, MD – A Hospital’s Role In Breastfeeding The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative
Michal Young, MD – Saving Our Babies
Kimarie Bugg, MSN, MPH (ROSE Founder) – Reclaiming Our Breastfeeding Experience
Jacqueline Grant, MD, MPH, MPA – Dougherty County: Centering Pregnancy
Acquanda Stanford – Occupy The Bridge: Looking Pasts Protagonists and Re-Working the Center
Terry Jo Curtis, IBCLC – Home Alone Impact of mPINC
Delvecchio Finley – UCLA Medical Center Baby Friendly Presentation
Andrea Serano – Using Online Resources to Improve Your Outreach
Y. Dera Baskin – The Community Aspect of Supporting Breastfeeding
Lorine Bizzell – Improve Your Loving Support: A Journey Together
Tenesha Turner – A Day in My life As A Peer Counselor
Ursuline Singleton – It’s Only Natural: Mother’s Love Mother’s Milk
Jeretha McKinley – Illinois Breastfeeding: Blueprint, a Plan for Change
Lavonia Nelson – The Miracles of Breast Milk
Sojourner Marable-Grimmett – Table for Two
Tammy Thompson – Lactation Design: Innovative Solutions for Breastfeeding
Jonathan Phillips – New Dads 101 Overview
Kidatta Green – Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA)
Dalvery Blackwell – Normalizing Breastfeeding Thru Breastfeeding Community Gatherings
Flora Ukoli – International Baby Friendly Hospitals
That was day one.
ROSE’s goal for day two was to transform the ideas presented on the previous day into a ‘Plan of Action,’ by determining how individuals in each specialized area can contribute to the overall breastfeeding initiative and we were grouped together based on our professions, and used an “Action Planning Template’ in order to identify objectives and ways to gauge their success.
Some of those included:
- Identify issues within communities that are related to breastfeeding disparities — including access to education and resources
- Establish goals
- Create targets
- Core consistencies
- Allies/support groups
- Opposition — what types of opposition is expected and how to counter this.
- Tactics, activities, organizational structure along w/staff and volunteers along with ways to gauge the success of the program
The goal was to find ways to spread the message of ROSE within our organizations and to help build their national database along with gathering ideas for future projects, helping to develop a work plan and other ways to support families. With so many participants, it is undeniable this will work towards increasing breastfeeding rates.
It was wonderful to see how so many presenters – whose careers fall under such varied categories, all have a common concern which is working on increasing the breastfeeding rates among Black women. Saving our babies. The organization plans to follow-up with those who made a commitment in order to see how we are progressing in finding ways to implement these strategies as well as get more people involved in joining the ROSE non-profit organization. They are also planning annual gatherings, and I plan on attending the ones I can.