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Who encourages you? Saying ‘Goodbye’ to a Black Breastfeeding Shero!

Terry Curtis 1951-2104. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, who also worked at a milk bank in Indiana. Here, she is working on part of the process of pasteurizing human milk.
Terry Curtis 1951-2104. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, who also worked at a milk bank in Indiana. Here, she is working on part of the process of pasteurizing human milk.

I gave a 1-hour presentation on Black breastfeeding to about 160 students in an intro to medical anthropology course on Tuesday. The day before that, I received heartbreaking news that the founder of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition, Terry Curtis, had transitioned in her sleep just the day before.

If Terry were some celebrity or movie or pop star, the news would spread like wildfire and everyone who believed they were intersted in that person would speak kind thoughts. But often times people who have made an actual impact on others go unnamed to larger populations. My presentation was complete but I made an additional slide of Terry which I shared before I got started, because I wanted to tell the students how she impacted me and my work. In fact, in the very beginning she would read my blog, comment, made me a member of her coalition and really encouraged me to keep going, despite me facing all of the obstacles from being ‘unqualified’ because I had never breastfed and so there were many areas where organizations and such didn’t really allow me to help out. In fact, I don’t know where I would be in my own breastfeeding endeavor without the support she gave me about being involved, despite these challenges. I wonder if I would have even continued.

We had quite a bit in common, including both being from Mississippi. She never really told me all about everything she went through growing up down there, but she would say she could tell me stories for days about the racism she faced. I was hoping that one day over a hot cup of tea we’d sit down and I’d hear all about this part of her life. I’ve talked to her about my stuff — about withdrawing from breastfeeding conferences because of racial politics, and even about school and she knew all about the stuff that’s gone on and gave me advice on that.

This is what I told the students about her:

Before I start, I just want to take a moment to talk about Terry Jo Curtis who just passed away this past Sunday (Mother’s Day, 2014). Terry Jo Curtis is the founder of the IBBC, an organization based in Indianapolis to challenge the disparities in Black breastfeeding, and to get more Black babies to breastfeed. For a time she was the only Black International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) it the state.

When I was just starting out out on my breastfeeding journey I was frustrated and discouraged because NO ONE would allow me to participate in various activities and venues because I was this weird chick who wanted to work in breastfeeding but had never done it. She really took me under her wing and encouraged me and introduced me to her people and we’ve been pretty tight ever since. I don’t think I would be here were it not for the encouragement she gave me back then and now, even as I just talked to her recently. I was hoping to see her again in July should I attend the ROSE Black breastfeeding conference in Atlanta, and just talked to her recently about this.

I won’t ask for a moment of silence but as you go about your day today I encourage you to take some time and reflect on who encouraged YOU in whatever journey you’re on or have been on and, in turn, who will you or HOW can you encourage another in theirs.’

The Black breastfeeding world just won’t be the same. But we know she left a legacy that will continue living long after she has not. I have another presentation tomorrow, and I plan on telling my audience the same thing. My feelings have been really hurt over her passing. I’ve been listening to this song. It reminds me of growing up, and I have used the words as a means of comfort for me right now. I really miss her already, and I know that I will continue to do so.

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