Taking a Mission Moment with Amy Barron Smolinski

The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee hosted its Membership Meeting on Thursday, June 11. The biannual event brings together the more than 100 member organizations that comprise the USBC to work collaboratively to drive policy and practice changes that create a landscape of breastfeeding support.

As part of a meeting segment referred to as the "Mission Moment," USBC Board Treasurer Amy Barron Smolinski provided a moving reflection on the dual public health crises of systemic racism and coronavirus, and their impact on our collective mission. Listen to the recording or read the transcript below. 

These are tumultuous times. As you will hear throughout the meeting today, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee staff and board have been grappling, as have all of you, our members, with the rapid and at many times frightening impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased visibility of racism and police brutality, and the people's protests against racism in the U.S. Every one of us is impacted. But Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have once again borne the heaviest share of the burden.


NPR reported that nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater. In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Latinx people also make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater. These statistics demonstrate clearly what many of us have been crying out for years: racism is woven into the fabric of the U.S. healthcare system, which is interwoven with the other systems in our society to maintain oppression of BIPOC.

Such as the U.S. "justice" system. Time magazine reported the NYPD's own data: 374 summons for social distancing violations were handed out between March 16 and May 5. Of those 374 summons, 304 were handed out to black and Latinx people. The first federal inmate to die of COVID-19 was Andrea Circle Bear, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She was pregnant. I want to pause here to remember this unnecessary and unjust loss of life.

Then came the painful reminders, three in a row that we know of, that even in the midst of a global pandemic, people choose racism over humanity in the U.S.: Ahmaud Arbery, murdered by racists, Breonna Taylor and her fiancé Kenneth Walker, and George Floyd, all victims of murder by police operating in a decades old system of racism. I want to pause here to remember them.

At the beginning of the COVID shutdown, I said to a friend of mine, "It feels like Mother Earth has had enough. She tried to tell us, over and over, and we didn't listen, so now she's just sent us all to our rooms." My friend replied, "Yes, and you just sit there and think about what you've done.“ And we did. And in the enforced pause, our collective consciousness thought,"This is not the world we want to live in." Now, people are risking their lives in two ways — both from exposure to COVID-19 and from physical violence from the police — to stage a people's uprising. Many people are fearful that these protests will wane or worse, be stamped out by authoritarian means, and things will continue on as they always have. This is a legitimate fear. But many of us feel cautious optimism that this feels different.

In westernized, Europeanized, colonized thought systems, we are accustomed to binary thinking about life cycles. You live, which is good, then you die, which is terrifyingly bad. But in many (if not most) non-patriarchal, non-colonial religious and cultural systems, there is a different understanding of the universal life cycle. In my studies, and in the spiritual traditions where I find comfort and meaning, I have most often found it structured as tri-cyclic: not life and death, but destruction, creation, and sustenance. Destruction is the first phase. There has to be destruction of all that is dying, diseased, and rotted before you can create and rebuild sustainable life on foundations of truth, equity, and integrity. This is true from the cellular level of living beings to macro level of civilizations built on injustice and oppression. And in this truth, we find hope. Because destruction means the end of what no longer serves and the beginning of something truly better, healthier, and thriving.

Our vision at USBC is thriving families and communities. We have been actively engaged in dismantling the systems of oppression and injustice as part of our work to build thriving families and communities for years. This is the moment we've been preparing for. Let us stay committed to the work by staying focused, listening deeper, and acting with intention.

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