Every year during National Black Breastfeeding week, the Twin Cities Chocolate Milk Club honors an active advocate with a “Rhonda Speers-White Award,” named after a woman who supported local Black breastfeeding mothers until she passed away in 2010. To qualify for the award, the honoree must have been a public advocate for at least a year, and have provided breastfeeding education and individual support to Black women for at least two years.
This year’s award winner is Kaytee Crawford, a.k.a. “Doula Kaytee.” Crawford is a certified birth and postpartum doula, lactation and childbirth educator, and trained and certified perinatal educator.
A recent honoree is LaSherion McDonald, a Health Educator with Ramsey County Public Health. McDonald says the reclamation of Black breastfeeding is an act of resistance against lingering health disparities, and other forms of racial oppression.
“Black breastfeeding has the power to spark a revolution. A health revolution. Just with breastfeeding alone, we can lower our rates of diabetes and hypertension, for future generations. And even breast cancer in women that breastfeed.” McDonald says. “If we are able to do it in large enough numbers consistently.”
The Chocolate Milk Club is a service of Chosen Vessels Midwifery. CVM is a Minneapolis based Black-affirming women’s wellness and lactation organization that utilizes the midwife care model. Chocolate Milk Club provides breastfeeding education and support to Black families in the Twin Cities to support better maternal health outcomes.
McDonald says breastfeeding disparities are a result of lack of cultural representation and support. She says she is grateful for her resources that have made her personal breastfeeding journey more manageable. She says the lack of community support can be discouraging:
“This breastfeeding has not been easy at all. I’ve never seen anybody in my family breastfeed. I was formula fed, my mom was formula fed… And that can be isolating because you don’t have anyone you can go to with your challenges or questions. But I persist because in the long run, It's going to benefit both me and my daughter with our relationship, and with her health and my health.”
McDonald says this reclamation is about more than overcoming personal and societal barriers. She says it’s about reconnection to ancestral knowledge and cultural prosperity.
“Black wealth isn’t the same as white wealth. So a lot of the time, we don’t have a lot of energy, time, and money to spend on making sure that our breastfeeding is as successful as we want it to be.” says McDonald. “The work I’m doing out in the community isn’t in vain.”
National Black Breastfeeding Week was created in 2012 by three maternal health advocates – Kimberly Seals Allers, Anayah Ayoka, and Kiddada Green – with the goal of supporting breastfeeding in Black communities and reducing barriers for women of color.