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Dear Elena Medo: You Can’t Claim to Support Black Breastfeeding and Attack Black Breastfeeding Advocates; Now Detroit Moms Have Spoken

I have been quiet long enough.

Dear Ms. Medo,

Nobody likes a bully. Or a hypocrite. Or someone prone to bending the truth into a version that suits their own agenda. But sadly, you are repeatedly showing yourself to be definitely a bully and clearly a hypocrite with revisionist tendencies.

Let me explain. As a business owner, I can certainly understand that you were not pleased with the article I wrote for the NYTIMES.com about your ill-advised plan to target low-income black women in Detroit and other urban cities to sell their breast milk to your company, Medolac, via your relationship with the Mothers Milk Cooperative. I can also understand your need to protect your business interests as a for-profit company.  As a side note: Just to be clear I am not necessarily opposed to mothers being paid for their milk. It is a life-enhancing food that only women can produce and it takes time and effort to pump it. There is value there and women should be compensated for that, if they choose (perhaps tax incentives??). My issue, and as you are now learning the issue of many black women, is that you are specifically targeting us, and the most vulnerable among us and doing so in culturally inappropriate ways. And doing so with the promise of “wealth.” And most importantly, you disrespected the historical relationship between black women and white women and our breast milk by not respecting the community enough to reach out to any black breastfeeding advocates, advisors or organizations in devising your scheme. Um, I mean, campaign.  And quite frankly, given the fact that the stem cells in breast milk are in high demand for scientific research and you are a for-profit company possibly seeking other revenue streams, specifically targeting black women, seemed a little Henrietta Lacks-ish, don’t you think?

But this is where you really lose me. Because in our lengthy phone interview for that article (before you hung up on me prematurely when my questioning about getting community input became direct) you struck me as 1. Very passionate about your work and 2. A very astute business woman. I mean, didn’t you relocate your business and your life from California to Oregon just to take advantage of the laws in Oregon that classify milk as food and not human tissue which makes it therefore able to be bought and sold in that state? Or, let me guess, was it for the better weather?

So, I was quite surprised to see that instead of simply issuing a mea culpa and doing what the smart marketing folks call a “pivot” for your campaign (which the article pointed out, could have been improved by community collaboration BEFORE hand) and apologizing for a strategic error, you chose a remarkably unexplainable course: to attack me and the women like me, who have been working to reduce racial disparities among black women for years. I said, years. And we do so, in our communities. On the streets. And in the homes. Have you been to any of our communities?

First you wanted to attack me to the New York Times editors, claiming that I only quoted the highly respected Detroit-based advocate and founder of The Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA), Kiddada Green because Ms. Green and I have worked together and we have a so-called “financial relationship.”

So to be crystal clear: Kiddada Green and I absolutely, positively work together. Everybody who knows anything about black breastfeeding work knows that. You show your ignorance and lack of Google search capabilities when you assert in your ridiculous press release that this is groundbreaking news worthy of article retraction. As you can see the New York Times editors did not agree with you. To set the record straight: We do not work FOR each other. But we certainly work WITH each other. We are comrades in the fight to reduce disparities in our community. BMBFA leads highly-regarded cultural competency in breastfeeding workshops across Michigan and other states (I suggest you register asap!) and I am honored to have been on her team of facilitators. We are also part of a team developing a pilot project to create more First Food Friendly Communities in under-resourced areas. But Ms. Green was quoted because she is a Detroit native and resident has been a local breastfeeding leader in Detroit and a national leader in mother-to-mother peer support (you know, something you claim to want to do) since 2007. BMBFA owns trademarks for black mother support models that are being replicated nationally. BMBFA’s work has been supported by the U.S. Office of Women’s Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Michigan Department of Community Health.  And you know that Surgeon General’s Call to Action that you reference in that press release, well, Ms. Green was an expert advisor on that—she was at the table making recommendations to the Surgeon General. In fact, in recognition of her years of community work, Ms. Green was recently selected for the prestigious and highly competitive W.K. Kellogg Community Leadership Network Fellowship. Prior to founding BMBFA, Ms.Green had a 13-year career at Detroit Public Schools as first a Reading Specialist, then a Masters level Instructional Specialist. I could go on. So to be clear, Kiddada Green being quoted in that piece is because she has an intimate knowledge of Detroit in general and is one of the key go-to persons in Detroit on breastfeeding. And you and your partner TechTown, should have been ashamed to claim to want to do breastfeeding work there but not know who she is. Or Detroit-based, Breastfeeding Mothers Unite.  The Times editors were confident that Ms. Green stood on her own merit and while the relationship should have been mentioned (as I have mentioned in previous pieces where I’ve quoted Ms. Green), it certainly didn’t take away from the story. I regret giving you any fodder to side step the real issues here, but please note we are not stupid enough to be sidetracked by your smoke screen silliness. My reputation and commitment to this space is really undisputed and so is Ms. Green’s. Can you say the same?

Your side show is over (thanks for the entertainment) and we are back to the business of improving black maternal and infant health. Please take a seat.

Most ironically, and I’m afraid embarrassing for you, during my most recent work trip to Detroit (again, a Google search may have revealed my work in Michigan) I couldn’t help but running into other local breastfeeding related professionals whom your team have tried to call post haste to now retroactively create community support and I am still ROFL at how many of those people said the first thing they said to you was, “Have you spoken to Kiddada Green?” How ironic!! It would seem that by your own efforts and outreach, you are being redirected to the very same person who was quoted in the piece. In fact, your own campaign partner, Tech Town, recently sent an email to one of her new staff members attempting to get a meeting with BMBFA.


So you are now attempting to reach the same person you said was not credible and only quoted due to a financial relationship?? This is becoming comical, Ms. Medo. Except black mothers and babies are the punchline and I don’t find that funny.

I do however, continue to LOL over the sheer hypocrisy of you questioning anyone’s financial relationship when you have placed your own daughter as head of the Mother’s Milk Cooperative, the same co-op that has an “exclusive processing agreement” with your company. Isn’t it the cooperative, run by your daughter, that sets the rules that says mothers have no say so in what happens to their milk once it is accepted by Medolac. And isn’t this the same cooperative that seems to be failing in its obligations to pay mothers—according to recent chat groups. Read it here, folks! So much for wealth generation!

Ms. Medo, I find it most hypocritical that you would question anyone’s financial relationships. You who wants to make money off the backs of black mothers and didn’t even bother to offer anything but a possibility of money while you sell it at a guaranteed profit. But alas, most disturbingly you sought to muddle the real issue. The real issue remains your ill-advised scheme and the lack of respect you continue to show for the community you claim you want to serve. Please be clear, if you want to help us –then you should talk to us first. It’s a very simple concept. And you seem to be the only one who doesn’t get it. Your arrogance and white saviorism is showing, Ms. Medo. And it isn’t attractive.

Funny enough, I was warned about your litigious nature. I interviewed several women (all white) who refused to be quoted in the story because of your reputation for legal bullying. But here’s the thing, you can’t bully people who have been oppressed and taken advantage of for decades. You can’t bully me, because my work and the people I stand with in this cause are bigger than you could ever be. You can’t bully the people whose men, women and milk were leveraged to help build this nation.  My people have fought back against whips, chains, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, hoses and dogs, so your electronic press release and media attempts are looking really puny in a historical context. And laughable in the present context. Take note, if you want to come for me, come prepared because my ancestors don’t take kindly to okey doke.  And your feeble attempt to discredit two respected black female advocates and sidestepping the real issue is as okey doke as it gets. Again, I really advise you work that Google thing out, because a random search would have schooled you on the history of black people and black women in particular, who don’t shy away when being threatened, attacked or having our health or that of our babies compromised for financial gain. That era is over.

Now Detroit moms have organized themselves against your plan and your lack of respect for their community with a powerful petition and open letter to Medolac. The media is reporting the protest. Legislators in Michigan are aware of your half-baked, socio-centric effort and changes are underfoot. The hundreds of signatures of support are rolling in and the message from Detroit and across the country is clear. No thank you. Not like this.

Now, Ms. Medo what will you do? Make amends or continue the disrespect and insults? It is time to see if you are truly committed to supporting breastfeeding or just protecting potential profits with bully tactics against the people representing the community you claim you want to serve.

Finally, and I admit this one is personal, I couldn’t help but notice your repeated reference to me in your press release and social media outlets as “that blogger.” I can see that you are using this word pejoratively. But again, this is where Google really needs to become your ally, because one, you would know that bloggers have brought many companies, much bigger than yours, to their knees for various offenses and have successfully advocated for mothers when no one else would. And then you would have learned that I am actually first and foremost an award-winning journalist –a former writer at Fortune magazine (where I covered real companies. Major multi-nationals), a former Wall Street reporter for the New York Post and then I went to London to do the same for The Times. I have an undergraduate degree in journalism from NYU and a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. For years, I was a senior editor at ESSENCE magazine, a historic media institution for black women—again my work for black women goes deep, Ms. Medo. The first of my four (and counting) published books was the first of its kind, pregnancy guidebook for black women. It was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, turned into a DVD sold at Walmart and was used as the base content and framework for the African American pregnancy section on BabyCenter (maybe you’ve heard of that behemoth!). I am the founder of Black Breastfeeding 360 and a respected consultant, commentator and public speaker in the breastfeeding world. So if you want to refer to me as a blogger, please make sure it’s in the proper context.  Because commentaries written by “that blogger” had over 2 million page views last year.

However, it is clear that you are clueless in this regard and have no respect for black mothers or the black women who do the tireless and quite frankly, under paid, work of advocating for black breastfeeding, working on the ground (in places you wouldn’t dare to go) and collaboratively to improve breastfeeding rates and brainstorming innovative and culturally appropriate solutions to do so. You are more than welcome to join us. However, taking one of BMBFA’s cultural competency courses will one of the prerequisites.

Your Medolac plan for black women is severely lacking.

Yes, we want to improve black breastfeeding rates, but how we do it matters.


In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

Thanks to  Breastfeeding Mothers Unite and V. Kuroji Patrick, recipient of the 2013 Medela Breastfeeding Hall of Excellence Community Award, for the powerful illustration.



One Response to “Dear Elena Medo: You Can’t Claim to Support Black Breastfeeding and Attack Black Breastfeeding Advocates; Now Detroit Moms Have Spoken”
  1. Sherrie Sargent says:

    You go girl! What’s done in secret always comes to the light. We need to understand our true value in this world. It’s wonderful how you are willing to connect the dots for those of us unaware. Oh, how this same issue keeps resurfacing just in different forms but still the same. God help us!

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