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We mourn the loss of Terry Jo Curtis, a Breastfeeding Champion

Words can’t express how sad I am to learn of the passing of the phenomenal Terry Jo Curtis, who was a fearless champion for mothers, fathers and babies and the founder of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition.

We have lost a giant among us.

As the creator of the first Fathers Supporting Breastfeeding Group in the state of Indiana, Terry knew far too well that breastfeeding was a family affair. As a staunch advocate for decreasing infant mortality, Terry was courageous enough to not standby while black babies in Indiana died at a rate that is nearly twice the national average. As a dedicated mother of two beautiful daughters, Paris Curtis and Kai Taylor, Terry was a powerful role model to her children and three grandchildren.

Terry would tell you how she was inspired to do this work by her own grandmother who was a wet nurse. Her grandmother breastfed her own children and the babies of others. From an early age, Terry leaned the power of breast milk and worked hard to touch all mothers and babies. She served as the Pasteurization Coordinator for the Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank and served on the Lactation Department staff for Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital. Terry also taught her “Bosom Buddies” breastfeeding classes and a support group at the Caldwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Indiana and completed certification to teach Lactation in the Work Place seminars.

Simply put, Terry dedicated her life to supporting mothers and their breastfeeding goals and better educating our community on breastfeeding. It is no wonder she won the 2009 Indiana Perinatal Network Most Valuable Player Award for her work in the breastfeeding community and she received the Clarian Health Partners President Employee Excellence Award in 2003. Always innovative, Terry used the grant gift to study Mammals and Breastfeeding at Sea World in Orlando Florida through the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice, with a goal of helping women better understand our natural life habits as mammals.

One time I spoke with Terry, I was writing a piece for Women’s eNews about the need for more diversity among the IBCLC ranks, and (at that time) as the only African American International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Indiana—Terry knew this need far too well and she was passionately committed to changing the landscape in the field.  But Terry didn’t just talk about it. She was about it. She actively supported others.

Dalvery Blackwell, founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network in Milwaukee, shares how Terry motivated her to stay disciplined to successfully sit for the IBCLC exam. “The week before I took my exam, she called and gave me test questions over the phone!  When I received my certification, we celebrated!” Dalvery says.  Last year, when we launched Black Breastfeeding Week, Terry gave us support and advice and cheered us on via email. Kimarie Bugg, founder of ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere) says Terry was her “rock” who was a tremendous help in building the ROSE organization. And Kiddada Green, founder of Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) recalls how Terry sent her a wedding gift, sealing their bond beyond the professional realm. This is who Terry was.

“I loved the way Sister Terry Curtis introduced her closest friends to others…she would say “this is my girlfriend”…She will always hold a special place in my heart and will forever be my sister girlfriend,” Dalvery says.

In our work of supporting breastfeeding in our community, we are often viewed—as Terry most definitely was viewed– as “SuperWomen” who tirelessly take on the fight to decrease infant mortality and improve maternal and infant health outcomes in our community. This is truly important work. But in these times of losing such greatness—as we have lost with Terry—we are reminded that we are all simply human. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Fragile Beings. Who are not promised another day. And so today as we pay homage to a champion for our community who left us way too soon, we wrap our heavy hearts with a promise to pick up the mantle where Terry left off and to continue her legacy of supporting black breastfeeding in the state of Indiana and beyond.  Let’s commit to strengthening our black breastfeeding sisterhood, because I know this is what Terry would want.

We salute Terry Jo Curtis as our breastfeeding “She-ro” and stand ready to carry her passion and self-determination in our work.  Forever.

With deep sadness,

Kimberly

(Please send donations in Terry’s honor to the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition to continue her life-changing work.)

The Homegoing service for Terry will be held on Saturday, May 17th at Jones Tabernacle Church, 2510 East 34th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Viewing: 10-12 noon; Homegoing service at noon.

Please share your thoughts and comments about Terry and her work here.

Comments
8 Responses to “We mourn the loss of Terry Jo Curtis, a Breastfeeding Champion”
  1. Antoniette Holt says:

    It was with a heavy heart to find out about Terry. Terry Jo will be greatly missed. Her many efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and her work throughout Indiana will be forever remebered.

  2. admin says:

    “Sister Terri Curtis was one of the first lactation experts I met as I was trying to establish our coalition in Milwaukee. I will never forget the day I met her; I was at the USBC Conference in 2009 in Virginia. She was so excited about her work and the establishment of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition. She was always very interested in hearing about the breastfeeding successes and challenges of others as well.

    She was a constant source of support to me and many other women of color who were interested in becoming lactation consultants. She advised women on what study books to use and she would often call to give a word of encouragement and support. She loved coaching and counseling women. “—Dalvery Blackwell

  3. Ryan Karim says:

    Simply beautiful! She forever reamins an inspiration to us all. How blessed are we to have known her and received so much of her wisdom!!

    I will miss the woman who so proudly flaunted me as her protege’.

    Her vision will go fourth.

  4. Thank you for sharing how inspirational and tireless Terry Jo was. We were lucky to have her serve our Community!

  5. Kimarie Bugg says:

    Terry was a true friend. We talked often, discussing the passion we have for what we do with breastfeeding families and the amazement that we actually get “paid” to do this. Most recently we have been discussing the need for us, as seasoned advocates, to mentor and guide the young families that are supporting and struggling with breastfeeding issues. The disparities and inequities in our community is troubling, but we have seen such improvements. Terry was so easy to talk to. I cold called here three years ago, shocked, that there was a Black Breastfeeding Coalition in Indiana. I was born and raised is South Bend, ind. It was easy to see how she did the wonderful things she did, after talking with her. Im sure I will continue to pick the phone up to call her, when I get frustrated. When I threaten to “quit”, she would say to me; You know we have to be in the room! When we are in the room, the conversation changes. Stay there Kim, it’s not about us. It’s about the babies!

    Love

  6. Linda Garrity says:

    Thank you Kimberly for putting in beautiful words what so many of us are feeling. I’ve know Terry Jo for over 25 years and she will be greatly missed.

  7. Paris curtis says:

    Thank you so much for loving and Honoring our mother the way you did, as humble as she was she still would be like …”Girl did you see what my Girls posted about me”? We Will continue the journey in the breastfeeding world because of our mothers love which means we didn’t have a choice but to love breastfeeding. Mom slept,ate and lived for breastfeeding,
    Nothing could replace our mom, but one thing for sure we know she will be in our spirit and sitting with Our Lord & Savior in heaven.

    THANKING YOU FOR lOVING OUR MOM,

    Paris Curtis/ Kai Taylor

  8. Anne Brookhyser says:

    Thank you for sharing about Terry. What a loss for our community. I took my IBCLC course with her and was moved by her passion for improving infant mortality rates and the Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank. She will be missed. Let’s keep working in her honor.

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