Questions and Responses as of March 6, 2019
What does racial equity mean to you?
Leaders in racial equity have taught us that this work depends upon acknowledgment of the structural oppression that causes inequitable outcomes, and the ways in which benefits and burdens are disproportionately experienced under these structures. This includes turning a critical lens on ourselves and honestly examining how we are, and are not, equipped to serve in efforts to advance racial equity. It also means being transparent about, and accountable for, centering the lived experiences of mothers of color and ensuring that community leaders and families of color are leading and equitably compensated for the design, development, implementation, and review of programs and structures that impact breastfeeding families of color.
Based on this understanding, we realize that we have not been engaged in authentic racial equity work. We deeply regret that and we are working to change it. As we’ll share in the responses included below, we are working to ensure our board leadership better reflects the communities with whom we endeavor to serve; we are doing our own work to better understand the intersections of oppression that result in racial inequity; we are planning for establishment of a framework for respectful listening, trusting, and investing in marginalized communities; and we will be developing a strategic plan to guide our efforts in partnership with our new board. And, as a central component of the efforts listed above, we will publish our racial equity framework and metrics for accountability.
What does racial healing and reconciliation mean to you?
We understand racial healing and reconciliation to mean that it is an ongoing process that requires an acknowledgment of the roots in systemic racism in the decisions, practices and policies of a group of people who have harmed others. This process also requires an ongoing commitment to change these institutional and interpersonal practices (formal and informal); and do that in a meaningful way by engaging with those who have been harmed to inform future decisions and practices. It was a mistake not to sign on to your open letter to Medolac. This decision showed disregard for mothers who deserved our support and solidarity. We acknowledge this reinforced systemic oppression that has affected African American mothers in Detroit for many years.
Why did you ignore the request to stand in solidarity with Detroit mothers?
Our decision not to sign your letter was ill-informed and reflected our privilege. As we look back on meeting records from 2015, our board of directors discussed your request at length. Based on the feedback we sought, limited understanding we had at the time, and our focus on the small number of alliances we had established, we concluded we could not sign onto your campaign. Looking back, we should have used our platform to stand with Detroit mothers. A policy advocacy agenda with policy priorities or an informed and articulated commitment to racial equity may have helped guide our response, but neither were in place at the time. As an organization, we are working to abandon the personal biases that contributed to this decision
Do you have any regrets? If so, explain.
We regret that we did not prioritize diverse board leadership of our organization when we became a 501c3 in 2012. We regret not establishing a firm policy agenda to equip us for reaction to issues and transparency about our priorities, prior to beginning our policy advocacy work. We regret not trusting the leaders in breastfeeding and racial equity who asked for our solidarity in the 2015 Medolac campaign, especially when Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association had just served in solidarity with us during the 2014 Michigan Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Law campaign. We regret claiming that racial equity was a priority, without a full depth of understanding for what this meant and clarity that true racial equity work starts with acknowledgement and atonement. We regret the harm MIBFN caused African American women in Detroit and the years of lost partnership as a direct result of these actions.
How do you plan to reconcile with Detroit mothers?
We know there is a lot of work to do before we can hope for healing and reconciliation between MIBFN and the Detroit mothers we have harmed. We would like to begin facilitated listening sessions with Detroit families and community leaders. However, we also acknowledge that mutual trust is paramount, and that many breastfeeding supporters in Detroit do not currently trust MIBFN. Therefore, in order to move forward respectfully, our next step will be to convene an advisory council. This council, in which we intend to include trusted community members from Detroit, will advise establishment of a respectful engagement framework and provide external oversight of our efforts. We welcome input and/or participation from Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association and Detroit mothers, but we also realize we cannot demand it.
Today, if a for-profit company were to attempt to exploit African American women for their breast milk, how would you respond?
If African American women are targeted for their breast milk again, we will listen to the leadership of the individuals and organizations steeped in the work of racial equity. MIBFN will leverage the privilege of holding a statewide platform to increase awareness of this issue and stand against exploitation of families of color.
What is your specific plan for racial equity in breastfeeding outcomes for Michigan families?
Based on what we have learned, we realize that what we were previously doing was not racial equity work. To become better equipped to serve in solidarity with efforts to reduce racial inequities, we are: transitioning to new, more diverse board leadership with demonstrated commitments to racial equity; expanding our own awarenesses of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and making plans to listen respectfully with marginalized communities across Michigan. Incorporating the feedback from listening sessions in Detroit and through Michigan, we will begin the process of developing a strategic plan with built-in metrics for accountability. This process will be transparent, inclusive, and facilitated with outside support. More information on these efforts is available at www.mibreastfeeding.org/DEI.
“We will continue the process of reaching out to the signatories of your letter.” State the names and affiliations of signatories and leaders who called you to task.
Kiddada Green of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice, Senator Erika Geiss of the Michigan Legislature (District 6), Afrykayn Moon of Breastfeeding Mothers Unite, Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka of MomsRising, and Kimberly Seals Allers of First Food Friendly Community Initiative & MCH Communication Collective shared their concerns about MIBFN’s failure to serve in solidarity with African American families in Detroit in a letter to the MIBFN Board of Directors on October 26, 2018.
The letter is addressed to “Dear Partner”. State the names and affiliations of your Detroit community partners and the bi-directional commitments/benefits of said partnership.
In our open apology on November 28, 2018, use of the word “partner” was intended as a sincere indication of respect for Kiddada Green of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice, Senator Erika Geiss of the Michigan Legislature (District 6), Afrykayn Moon of Breastfeeding Mothers Unite, Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka of MomsRising, and Kimberly Seals Allers of First Food Friendly Community Initiative & MCH Communication Collective. However, genuine partnership is built on transparency, trust, and mutual benefit. Through your response, we understand that use of this term felt disingenuous, and we are sorry. As we grow, and demonstrate consistency with our coalition building aims, we are working to strengthen and expand our community partnerships. We do endeavor to earn the trust of Detroit-based organizations and develop bi-directional partnerships throughout the city.
“We are trying to do better as we move forward.” This response is non-committal.
We take very seriously the feedback from your support group participants and were deeply saddened our apology letter seemed insincere. We recognize we have significant work to do to earn your trust, and we are committed to doing this work. In partnership with our new board members, we will continue tightening, and sharing updates to, the timeline and accountability metrics shared in our plan (available at www.mibreastfeeding.org/DEI).
“Our team will continually work on answering your remaining questions through our actions and not just our words.” Be clear and specific. Share a detailed plan and timeline.
We acknowledge and agree with your request for a detailed and transparent plan to respond to your questions. These questions are central to all of our ongoing efforts and we are committed to providing clear and complete responses to each of them. In partnership with our new board members, we will continue providing updates to each of these questions, including a detailed plan and timeline for complete responses in May 2019.
“We are committed to building a more inclusive organization that is equipped to reduce racial inequities in breastfeeding outcomes.” State the number of black people on your current board of directors, staff, and equitably paid contractors.
Currently, nine of 23 members of our board of directors, staff, and projects team identify as African American. The new board is purposefully inclusive of members who continue to demonstrate their commitment to Detroit families through action. Some of the ways their commitments have been evidenced are: serving as a community birth worker to mothers in Detroit, providing skilled lactation support to families throughout the city and Tri-County Area, and supporting organization of Detroit’s 2014 “Dancing For Justice” event to raise awareness of and acknowledge the black and brown children murdered by police. Each of these women chose to bring their leadership to MIBFN because of their passion for breastfeeding and personal commitment to racial equity.
Be specific about the number of black people you will be adding to those positions in 2019 and how you will verify that these additions can authentically represent Detroit families.
We recognize the importance of our statewide coalition reflecting the communities with whom we endeavor to serve, and we acknowledge that our lack of diversity in leadership made it impossible to fulfill our stated intentions of serving to advance racial equity. Thus far in 2019, five African American women have joined MIBFN’s board of directors and one African American woman has joined our projects team. We are thrilled they have chosen to lend their leadership to the next chapter of MIBFN. This commitment to leadership of MIBFN is not a commitment that any of them take lightly. They are aware of your criticisms, and chose to join now precisely because they are passionate about racial equity and desire to lead our state coalition into true solidarity with the leaders and communities with whom we endeavor to serve.
The new board members continuously demonstrate their leadership and commitments to the families with whom they endeavor to serve. Recent examples of their leadership include: leading research on the impacts of breastfeeding peer counseling on African American mothers, serving as a health equity training facilitator for organizations throughout Michigan, presenting at a national webinar on the importance of leveraging power and privilege to reduce racial inequity, providing home visiting lactation support, convening and facilitating support groups for African American mothers, and more. We are honored to serve alongside them, have learned so much from them, and are continuously humbled by the skill and depth of experience they bring to this work.
Moving forward, continued recruitment and hiring plans with built-in accountability metrics will ensure that African American families in Detroit are consistently represented in our organizational leadership.
State your plan for in-service and training of your current leadership and support staff.
As an organization, we have made a commitment to continuous learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion. MIBFN board, staff, and projects team members are participating in conferences, webinars, trainings, reading books and articles all centered on issues of racial equity. These opportunities focus on larger issues of power and privilege, implicit bias and cultural humility in addition to inequities in breastfeeding, reproductive justice, and maternal and infant mortality. While our current focus is on racial equity, we would like to expand our learning to include other areas of breastfeeding inequity as well. Our first meeting with the new board of directors included a facilitated health equity training and we will continue to build our plan for continued growth at our March meeting. In addition, each projects team member submits an individual equity skill building plan quarterly. Many of the learning resources they are registered for, or have already completed, are listed on our Learning Resources webpage, under the “Education” section of our website.
The original campaign was launched nearly four years ago in January 2015. Evidence your commitment to inclusion and the reduction of racial inequities during that timespan.
In 2015, we did not have defined policy priorities and had not yet voiced our organizational commitment to racial equity. In 2016, we incorporated racial equity into our strategic plan, but we did not take specific action on the related goals. In 2017, we shifted our projects focus to issues that disproportionately impact families of color. In 2018, we established our eight core campaigns, policy positions for each campaign, and our advocacy and coalition building aims. In 2019, we established our education aims.
We acknowledge that each of these efforts would have been strengthened if they had been completed as part of a coordinated, community-driven, racial equity plan. We are committed to a new chapter of MIBFN, where inclusion in development is integral to our organizational strategy, and racial equity is a priority within our strategic plan.
Express the reason for your recent commitment to inclusion and racial equity in your work.
Our desire to serve in solidarity with people, communities, and organizations leading efforts to reduce inequities in breastfeeding outcomes is sincere. Shifts in our awareness within the board leadership, as well as our new executive director, projects team members, and projects partners have all strengthened our commitment to this work.
“We are truly sorry for our response to your (Medolac public accountability) campaign.” This statement is misleading because you did not respond. You were silent. Be clear about why you are sorry. State what you did wrong, why it was wrong and how you will do better.
We should have spoken out about Medolac and your campaign, but we chose not to. We should have been aware of the history and current contexts of the exploitation of African American women, and the ways this trauma is integral to the experience of being an African American mother in Detroit. We should have been surrounded by a diverse board of directors with leadership on these decisions. As an organization that had just celebrated its own advocacy success, with significant support from Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association staff and mothers, we should have had an established a transparent policy agenda that made clear what issues we would and would not support. We should have listened to and trusted the expertise of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, who had just served in solidarity with our successful efforts. Doing any one of these things would have resulted in a timely and straightforward decision to respond to the Medolac call-to-action.
As we move forward, diversity, equity, and inclusion are foundational to our efforts. Our current work to become better prepared to serve in solidarity with marginalized communities are published on www.mibreastfeeding.org/DEI. These efforts will continue to grow, strengthen, and expand as we move forward into a new era of being a state coalition for every Michigander.
Clearly communicate why your abject failure to stand in solidarity with Detroit families is damaging. Address the core issues, their intersections, and the trauma incited and perpetuated with your stance.
Inaction on calls for support from mothers, community leaders, and established organizations serving African American families was rooted in ignorance, bias, and privilege. Our leadership was more invested in tone than justice and we failed to use our privilege and platform to serve in solidarity with Detroit mothers and breastfeeding supporters. In doing so, we further perpetuated trauma against Detroit families by fixating on the methods used to call out this campaign, rather than the importance of the end result. As Dr. King described it in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail more than 50 years ago, this is the behavior of the “white moderate,” and not an organization that is truly serving in solidarity with African American mothers.
“However, our responses would be disingenuous if we claimed to have all the answers to the questions you requested.” “In the coming months and years, and as we continue doing this work, we hope that our actions as an organization, as well as individuals, demonstrate our commitment to racial equity…” List your metrics for accountability.
Current accountability: 1) Diversity – Nine new members, six of whom are women of color with established commitments to racial equity, joined our board of directors. Information about the new board members will be shared on the team page of our website in March 2019. 2) Learning – All staff and projects team members have established and are implementing individual learning plans. Board members completed a facilitated onboarding session and will establish a coordinated training plan in mid-March 2019. Our website will be updated accordingly in April 2019. 3) Listening – Plans for an advisory council to establish a respectful listening framework will be published in April 2019. 4) Planning – Strategic planning process will begin after the advisory council publicly releases their report.
Plans to expand each of these actions and concrete metrics will be released in coordination with the new board members.
On November 28, 2018 you shared this apology on your social networks and blog. Two days later you sent a newsletter to your listserve. The newsletter did not include your apology. Be firm in your promise to demonstrate your commitment to racial equity.
On March 5th, we published a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion webpage, under the “About” section of our website and published a letter to our listserv, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As our work continues, we will continue seeking input and sharing updates.