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,
(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.