The Men of ROBE: Standing at the Intersection of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding and Social Justice
About Kindred’s Series:
In this series, Kindred listeners and readers are invited to our virtual campfire to hear the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, share their inspired personal stories and vision for their national nonprofit work.
In this series, Lisa Reagan is joined by Kindred’s social justice editor, Dave Metler, in Detroit, MI, and our Kindred Spirit Research Student, Reshma Grewal, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, who helped to expand our inquiry into our own personal experiences and perspectives.
In this first interview, Wesley Bugg, JD, and George Bugg, MD, founders of ROBE, share the nonprofit’s origins and overview. In forthcoming interviews, ROBE Wisdom Council members share their extraordinary stories of forging a new “generative” path to fatherhood, one that prepares black fathers to become crucial advocates “to increase breastfeeding rates and decrease infant mortality rates within African-American communities,” disparities that largely stem from structural and institutional racism.
While ROBE’s Wisdom Council members seek to “educate, equip and empower” new fathers, they, and the fathers they serve face racial and gender inequality, structural racism, and a persistent cultural myth of black fathers as absent fathers. A damaging and racist narrative rarely questioned when presented by politicians, contradictory CDC data shows:
- Most black fathers live with their children. There are about 2.5 million who live with their children, and 1.7 million who don’t, according to the CDC.
- Black dads who live with their children are actually the most involved fathers of all, on average, a CDC study found.
As the United States Breastfeeding Committee shares on their website, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, and infant mortality rates among all developed countries and is the only country where the maternal mortality rate is increasing instead of decreasing. Stark racial and ethnic disparities persist in rates of pregnancy complications, pregnancy-related deaths, preterm and premature birth, infant mortality, SUID and SIDS. In the U.S. today, African American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes and have a preterm birth rate nearly 50 percent higher than white women.
Maternal, infant, and child health outcomes, including breastfeeding rates, are impacted by issues of intersectionality. Deep inequities in social determinants of health, structural racism, and the lack of access to health care and preventive services are among the many factors impacting outcomes in communities of color and low-income communities. Policy changes are needed to influence upstream determinants of health and address the inequities that keep too many families of color from achieving their full potential.
Breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition and immune protection for babies, and a robust source of primary prevention for many infant and maternal conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly states that infant feeding should no longer be considered a lifestyle choice, but rather a public health imperative because of the many short and long-term benefits to mother and child.
For more academic insights into breaking stereotypes of black fathers, see Understanding the Positive Impacts of African American Fathers, or any work by Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., who has been deeply immersed in the study of fathers and families for over two decades.
This Kindred series will also explore:
- The individual stories, and histories, of the ROSE and ROBE founders and team members
- How engaging black fathers in birth and breastfeeding support roles is an effective, and needed, tactic for addressing the United State’s epidemic of black mothers dying in childbirth and low breastfeeding success rates.
- How ROBE addresses and dispels cultural bias and myths surrounding black families.
- How white professionals in the lactation field were not initially welcoming to black men as breastfeeding advocates. The “turf war” in the breastfeeding professionals field continues and this acknowledged cultural feature is explored as a barrier to breastfeeding success.
- How research shows nonprofit organizations have historically been bastions of white professionals, even white supremacy, and how the transformative programs of Reaching Our Sister’s Everywhere, ROSE, and ROBE offer equity training for organizations.
About Kindred’s Editor: Oral history has its roots in the sharing of stories throughout the centuries. It is a primary source of historical data, gathering information from living individuals via recorded interviews. Lisa Reagan’s interviews of thought-leaders, researchers, activists, parents and professionals serves as an oral history of the organic conscious parenting/family wellness movement in the United States and globally since 1999. Follow her podcasts, and this series, on Apple Music/iTunes, SoundCloud and here on Kindred.
Black Men, Breastfeeding, Infant Mortality and Social Justice Series
Part I: Meet ROBE – An Interview with Founders, George Bugg, MD, and Wesley Bugg, JD
In this first interview of the series, Kindred’s Social Justice Editor, Dave Metler, and Editor, Lisa Reagan, talk with Dr. George Bugg and Wesley Bugg, JD, founders of ROBE, Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere.
In this podcast interview you will meet Dr. George Bugg, a neonatologist, and his son, Wesley Bugg, a nonprofit attorney, who have sparked a national movement to explore the healing power of black men supporting breastfeeding as a path to healing fatherhood and addressing critically needed social justice reforms.
Lisa Reagan met the ROBE founders and program leaders at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference in June 2019 and again at the Worklife Law Center’s Breastfeeding Summit in August 2019. (see photos below)
ROBE’s mission is to educate, equip, and empower men to impact an increase in breastfeeding rates and a decrease in infant mortality rates within the African-American communities. Visit their website at www.breastfeedingrobe.org.
Upcoming Interviews in the Series
Part I: Meet ROBE – An Interview with Founders, George Bugg, MD, and Wesley Bugg, JD
Wesley Bugg is a 2016 graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Law (JD, LLM), and 2013 graduate of Emory University (BA). He is currently the deputy director of Court Vision International Inc., a nonprofit that promotes youth advocacy and conflict resolution. His current interests include legal compliance and business development, especially for startups and small nonprofits where these tasks are often expensive and difficult. In this spirit, he serves ROSE as the Legal Compliance Officer and financial assistant, aggregated into his role as Financial and Legal Operation Coordinator.
Dr. George Bugg is currently the chief of the neonatology service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA, and the neonatal director of the Emory Regional Perinatal Center. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (BA), Meharry Medical College (MD), and Emory University (MPH). He is a founding member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and was trained in lactation management at Wellstart International. He and his wife, Kimarie Bugg, are the proud parents of five children.
Listen to the interview withe Wesley and Dr. Bugg above.
Part II: The “Magic of Fears and Tears” – An Interview with Kimarie Bugg, DNP
Kimarie Bugg, DNP/FNP-BC/MPH/IBCLC/CLC, is Chief Empowerment (CEO) and Change Leader of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc (ROSE), a nonprofit corporation developed in 2011, to address breastfeeding inequities and disparities in the African American community.
A national treasure for her leadership in breastfeeding and equity education, in this Kindred interview, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC, shares her story of discovering her love for caring for babies and mothers as the granddaughter of a Southern lay midwife who cautioned her to become a “real nurse” when she grew up. Born in South Bend, Indiana, Kimarie’s childhood visits to her grandmother in Arkansas shaped her understanding of racism with first-hand experiences – like moving off of sidewalks with her grandmother to let white people pass – that she did not encounter in South Bend.
Part III: The Men Of ROBE: Standing At The Intersection Of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding And Social Justice
Calvin Williams is a co-author of and Master Trainer for the “On My Shoulders” fatherhood curriculum, an innovative, evidence-based program that equips fathers for success in relationships with their children and co-parenting partners. He previously served as the Director of Fatherhood Services at Public Strategies Incorporated in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Before joining Public Strategies, Mr. Williams was as the Program Director for the Lighthouse Youth Services REAL Dads Program, and for the Services United for Mothers and Adolescents Fatherhood Project, both in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a founding and current board member with the Ohio Practitioners Network for Fathers & Families, a statewide training, advocacy and support organization for fatherhood practitioners.
Kevin Sherman was released from prison after spending 30 years incarcerated. He was born and raised in New Orleans uptown. At an early age he got into street crime, which led him to being shot then incarcerated at the age of 15. While incarcerated he began to educate himself and became a spokesperson for young men entering the prison system. Once Kevin was released, he continued his work with the youth by ensuring every young man and woman has the opportunity to avoid the pit-falls of the so-called street life. Kevin has an exceptional background as a youth and adult mentor, as well as a fatherhood and substance abuse peer facilitator. In 2015 Kevin led the Unity Project in Baton Rouge as the Youth Program Director. There he taught adult basic life skills and empowerment courses, parenting classes, mentored 250 youths and assisted them in obtaining a GED and facilitated instructional and valuable trips to Angola Prison. Kevin now facilitates the Male Fatherhood Program for Healthy Start New Orleans and NOLA for Life. He also is a Community Outreach Worker for Healthy Start.
Part IV: The Fatherhood Narrative: What Support Circles Reveal About Fears and Hopes
Carl L. Route, Jr. and his work has been featured on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) with host Lisa Ling, on “Our America” segment titled “Incarceration Generation”. He is the author of of two books, Born Captive, Made Free (2011), and Boy, Man, Father (2018).
Carl is a Community Activist, Criminal Justice Reformer, Responsible Fatherhood Advocate/Ally/Author, & Advisory Council member with Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc., Community Transformer and Wisdom Council member at Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE). He is also a volunteer with Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia Department of Community Supervision as an I Choose Mentoring Support Mentor, Certified Healing Communities Station of Hope and Community Stakeholder/Partnerwith Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative and member of former President Barack Obama’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper Fulton County Task Force, and an Ambassador with the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
Carl is the founder of Young Fathers of Metro Atlanta, Inc, a Certified Responsible Fatherhood & Family Life Coach with the National Partnership for Community Leadership. Lead Facilitator of an Access and Visitation pilot program for fathers on Child Support in Georgia’s largest transition center, a model for programs now facilitated at all 13 of the state’s transitional centers.
He has been a featured speaker at Harvard University Law School Speakers Forum (2018). See his presentation here.
Gregory Long is a stay-at-home dad who has homeschooled his two wonderful sons since 2006. Prior to that, he worked in the technical field at Comcast for 16 years as a Technical Trainer for the Prince George’s County Maryland system. In addition to homeschooling, Greg is a graphic designer and videographer/producer. He has done graphics work for Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, the DC and Maryland Breastfeeding Coalitions and other local businesses. In 2008, Greg filmed and produced the first documentary on kidney disease for the D.C. chapter of the National Kidney Foundation featuring an African American transplant candidate. In 2007, Greg began facilitating Fatherhood Matters, a component of the MedStar Washington Hospital Center Childbirth Education Series intended for dads. He meets with expectant fathers to discuss the vital role a father plays in a child’s life, which includes providing practical support for breastfeeding.
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Calvin Williams’ presentation from above:
“My vision for breastfeeding, is a vision for my people. Not all black people are struggling. And that has to be said because there are inane, ridiculous statistics out there like, ‘there are more black men in prison than on college campuses.’ Give me a break. But too many of my brothers and sisters are hurting each other, themselves, their families and their communities because THEY are so hurt, confused, distressed. Dissected and disconnected from their history and their own self-worth.
“In my dream, my breastfeeding dream, I see rivers of breastmilk flowing down the streets of these distressed communities. Healing, bonding, nursing and making whole what was dissected and dismembered. My vision for men is that they benefit from supporting and protecting the breastfeeding experience in ways that help them to reclaim their humanity. My vision for ROBE, is that neighborhoods, communities, cities across this country take advantage of and benefit from this assemblage, this collection, in ways that matter to those communities.”
Photos of ROBE presenting at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference and Convening 2019, in Bethesda, Maryland. Photos of ROBE by Lisa Reagan. Group photo of attendees by USBC.