Detroit Families Respond to Michigan Breastfeeding Network’s Open Apology

October 26, 2018

Dear Board of Directors of Michigan Breastfeeding Network,

It has come to our attention that you have updated your priorities by embedding equity, inclusion and social justice into your work strategies.  You have also explicitly stated that you will focus on improving racial equity in breastfeeding outcomes for Michigan families. While this might seem admirable, we have some concerns.

Specifically, we are concerned about your history of abject failure in supporting black families in breastfeeding. As you may know, one of the first steps in the process of authentic racial equity work is atonement and reconciliation.  In that regard, how do you plan to atone for your past failures to directly support and advocate for Detroit mothers? In 2015, we published an Open Letter to Medolac Laboratories from Detroit Mothers asking the company to be accountable for their attempts to recruit and purchase breast milk from African-American and low-income women in Detroit.  We received the support of more than 600 organizations and individuals both statewide and nationwide; however the Michigan Breastfeeding Network chose to not support our efforts.  Your absence did not go unnoticed.

In fact, on several occasions we reached out to you directly and asked that you stand in solidarity with Detroit families.  You responded with silence. Our public accountability campaign forced Medolac to retreat, retiring their attempts to exploit Detroit mothers.  After our victory, we reached out to you again, asking that you explain why you were unresponsive to our requests when Detroit mothers faced exploitation and commodification of their bodies.  Once again you chose to respond with resounding and deafening silence. This was a clear communication that standing up for black families in Detroit is not a priority for MIBFN. As that incident received national attention, so did the noticeable absence of support by the MIBFN by others in the black breastfeeding community and our allies.

You refused to stand with Detroit families, and before going forward we demand to know how you plan to reconcile.  It is disingenuous and disrespectful to our community for you to assume that you can overlook your organization’s track record in the community. This organizational history and reputational damage cannot be ignored and we will not allow organizations to embark on an inauthentic and flawed attempt at equity without doing the intentional work involved. Therefore, we are writing today to ask that you respond to the following questions publicly by November 29, 2018.

  1. What does racial equity mean to you?
  2. What does racial healing and reconciliation mean to you?
  3. Why did you ignore the request to stand in solidarity with Detroit mothers?
  4. Do you have any regrets? If so, explain.
  5. How do you plan to reconcile with Detroit mothers?
  6. Today, if a for-profit company were to attempt to exploit African American women for their breast milk, how would you respond?
  7. What is your specific plan for racial equity in breastfeeding outcomes for Michigan families?

Thank you in advance, and we look forward to receiving your response.

 

In solidarity,

Kiddada Green, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association

Danielle Atkinson, Mothering Justice

Erika Geiss, State Representative (MI HD12)

Afrykayn Moon, Breastfeeding Mothers Unite

Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, MomsRising

Kimberly Seals Allers, First Food Friendly Community Initiative & MCH Communication Collective

 


UPDATE: On November 28, 2018 The Michigan Breastfeeding Network released an Open Apology.


The families of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) expressed their concerns with the Michigan Breastfeeding Network’s Open Apology during Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Club meetings on December 12, 2018 and December 17, 2018. See the quotes and summary below:

SOME QUOTES

 

  • “The response seems as if it was something to check off their list of things to do.”
  • “We felt like you all were smoothing things over by being politically correct and not answering the questions! We need you all to ANSWER THE QUESTIONS.”
  • “We feel like your value for black women in breastfeeding is non-existent based on your response.”
  • “What are you really sorry for?”
  • “You all beat around the bush to respond to our questions. We feel like you all are saying, we are sorry but not sorry.”

Detroit moms read and discuss MIBFN apology.

  • “What does reconciliation look like to you all? We can’t keep going back and forth with you all. It’s time for accountability. We need to see you take more accountability.”
  • “We want specifics on what you’ve already established.  We need deliverables!!! We want to know what steps you took and what you actually implemented.”
  • “Why are there so many hiccups?”
  • “Why are you just now adding racial equality?
  • “Do you plan to share this apology in your newsletter?”
  • “Are we really your partners? Partners benefits from the situation, what’s our benefit?
  • “Are you all planning to ask us to help or looking for our input with the strategic planning?”
  • “How many black people are in-house? When did they start? What’s their background?”

SUMMARY

 

8 comments on “Detroit Families Respond to Michigan Breastfeeding Network’s Open Apology

  • Angela Johnson says:

    1. I agree with the already stated comment: “We want specifics on what you’ve already established. We need deliverables!!! We want to know what steps you took and what you actually implemented.”
    It is not too much to ask MIBFN to state specific action plan, indicate deliverables and outline a timeline for accomplishing these..

    2. Additionally, the MIBFN letter has anonymous signature – signing a letter from a group requires at least one or all of the group membership names – how else will accountability be insured when you it is not clear who you are holding accountable? as well sincere intentions warrant the they clearly individuals who serve as contact and/or responsible leads.

  • Angela Johnson says:

    1. I agree with the already stated comment that …specifics and deliverables should be established. It is not too much to ask MIBFN to state specific action plan, indicate deliverables and outline a timeline for accomplishing these..

    2. Additionally, the MIBFN letter has anonymous signature – signing a letter from a group requires at least one or all of the group membership names – how else will accountability be insured when you it is not clear who you are holding accountable? as well sincere intentions warrant the they clearly individuals who serve as contact and/or responsible leads.

  • Angela Johnson says:

    1. I agree with stated comment regarding specifics and deliverables. It is not too much to ask MIBFN to state specific action plan, indicate deliverables and outline a timeline for accomplishing these..

    2. Additionally, the MIBFN letter has anonymous signature – signing a letter from a group requires at least one or all of the group membership names – how else will accountability be insured when you it is not clear who you are holding accountable? as well sincere intentions warrant the they clearly individuals who serve as contact and/or responsible leads.

  • The stakeholder and community leadership on this matter is superb. Committment to equity is not something to be taken lightly. Transparency, accountability and atonement is definitely in order. Demands are more than reasonable. I would hope a more focused and targeted response is forthcoming in January after the strategic plan is completed. Stakeholders and community members with experience in equitable first food approaches have hopefully been recruited to heavily influence the plan. Otherwise the same racist, classist lens that drove the lack of response to other matters will permeate futher decisions.

  • Thank you, BMBFA, and the Detroit Breastfeeding champions listed!! Your diligence, commitment and love are showing! May those who seek to partner, be true partners. May those who seek to exploit, be exposed for who and what they are!! I proudly stand tall with you!

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