What happens in an environment void of the need to convince others that racial health inequity exists?
The National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC) put it to the test in August this year at their inaugural, unprecedented The Amazing R.A.C.E.: Rejuvenating A Community of Excellence event, just before the ROSE Summit in New Orleans. Participants included individuals vested in improving maternal child health as well as organizations like the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute who put forth a challenge on social media to raise scholarships for People of Color (POC) to attend the R.A.C.E.
Healthy Children Project’s Cindy Turner-Maffei attended The Amazing R.A.C.E. with Zoë McInerney of The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (ALPP).
Turner-Maffei calls the R.A.C.E. “something incredible.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like it before,” she says.
Fashioned after the reality TV show The Amazing Race, NAPPLSC’s Clifton Kenon and Nekisha Killings–designers of The R.A.C.E– challenged 39 participants to come up with an unmet need for breastfeeding and develop a plan to address the need. In slightly less than 24 hours, teams were required to share a Powerpoint presentation of their proposal that met a realistic budget to implement.
Already a complex task, participants were up against other elements on their race through the city:
- Sorted into balanced groups (individuals of varying professional backgrounds and of different ethnicities,) competitors were allotted $25 per team member to cover everything they might need in the following 24 hours: food, public transportation, other incidental expenses. Participants could not spend any of their own money, and they needed to keep record of all expenditures. NAPPLSC’s Membership Chair, Brenda Reyes, acted as the Financial Manager and conducted audits.
- The event took place from 5 p.m. on August 22 to about 4 p.m. on August 23 when team presentations began, so participants raced through the night. The event closed out with a celebratory event sponsored by HealthConnect One that included bowling, food and refreshments.
- About every two hours participants were challenged with side-tasks, like creating a media piece that showed predatory marketing in an hour and writing a grant proposal. If these tasks were satisfied, fake money was added to their final project budget.
“It was so intense,” Turner-Maffei emphasizes.
NAPPLSC President Felisha Floyd, BS, CLC, IBCLC, RLC points out that the intensity present at the R.A.C.E. reflects the environment POC work and live through everyday.
“Our communities are in crises,” she stresses.
Weaving heavy realities into game format made for dynamic energy, excitement and an element of mystery, Killings describes.
Members of the winning team were: Camie Goldhammer, Khyrej Jones, Nikia Fuller-Sankofa and her daughter, Chauntel Norris, and McInerney. NAPPLSC hasn’t shared the rubric for deciding on the winning team.
Over one month after the event, NAPPLSC Executive Director Stacy Davis reports that she’s still receiving emails from participants expressing their appreciation.
Killings noticed competitors’ elation to be around like-minded professionals, their excitement for what is to come and the gratification of realizing what they could create together.
Some have shared that the R.A.C.E. was life-changing.
Turner-Maffei reflects on the valuable process: “Part of my learning was realizing where my strengths are and knowing where to cede. I had to to refrain from sharing opinions. I’m not from this community. While I may know what works in general, the other folks in my group are the experts.”
She wonders, “How do I put my needs and skills out there so I can be truly useful?”
The R.A.C.E. helped Turner-Maffei realize the value of letting go of her perception of what is real and to be willing to accept another perception of reality.
Floyd considers her experience as a competitor life-changing too.
“It’s pretty amazing how quickly you can come up with ideas and really facilitate solution driven strategies under pressure,” she says. She points out though, that outside of the R.A.C.E., POC don’t always benefit from the team component.
In a true act of allyship though, Floyd recognizes the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Insititute’s challenge to organizations of privilege to sponsor POC as “profound and reassuring.”
“The beauty of that call out was that it was a wonderful example how an organization can act as an ally without being solicited,” Floyd explains. “We saw an amazing impact.”
Initially, NAPPLSC planned to issue three scholarships to The R.A.C.E.; ultimately they were able to award 15 full scholarships.
Floyd goes on, “In the field of lactation we all can find that common thread. We are all here to support families.”
Competitors entered the R.A.C.E. with similarities, but over 24 hours, they formed lifelong friendships.
For instance, one of Turner-Maffei’s team members had a grandchild born within 30 minutes of her newest granddaughter.
“I feel bonded to these women for life!” she exclaims.
Davis reiterates that participants got to know one another “on a totally different level.”
Floyd laughs, “I can only imagine if we had more time, we could have solved the world’s problems.”