Three Californians Honored at USBC National Conference and Convening

June 19, 2023

For the past several years, the California Breastfeeding Coalition has urged lactation advocates throughout the state to take action at the local level while considering the global impact of their work. At this year’s U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) National Breastfeeding Conference and Convening, three Californians were recognized for doing just that.

Founding Executive Director Robbie Gonzalez-Dow received the organization’s Legacy Award; Southern California IBCLC Ashley Sayers received the Native Knowledge Award; and Sonoma County public health nurse Lucy Tyrala received the Emerging Leader Award.

Robbie Gonzalez-Dow, Legacy Award

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you already have experienced Robbie’s commitment to lactation advocacy and providing a platform to those who have been historically ignored and dismissed in the field of maternal, infant and child health.

A woman with salt-and-pepper hair smiles lovingly at a man in a wheelchair while holding up a plaque award

Founding Executive Director Robbie Gonzalez-Dow, winner of the USBC Legacy Award, credits her husband, Greg, as her biggest cheerleader.

The imprint she’s made upon the infant-feeding landscape in the state and nation over the past 25 years is a legacy in and of itself. USBC established its Legacy Award in 2014 to honor the lifelong achievement of Drs. Audrey Naylor and Ruth Lawrence. This is an award bestowed upon individuals to acknowledge their extraordinary commitment, dedication, and leadership in the field of breastfeeding. 

In inviting Robbie to the stage, longtime USBC board member and Mothers Milk Bank San Jose Executive Director Pauline Sakamoto said everything California is known for within the First Food Field has a direct line to Robbie’s work.

For Robbie, though, the credit could never go to one person. It is now and has always been a group effort. “The answers are in the community,” she said, and her mission in leading the California Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) has always been about centering the voices of the California families. “Not so they can inform our work, but so they can co-create policy and share in creating it.”

Watch Robbie’s remarks.

Ashley Sayers, Native Knowledge Award

A woman in a knee-length dark dress holds a plaque award standing next to a podium.

Southern California IBCLC Ashley Sayers received USBC’s Native Knowledge Award.

Ashley (Turtle Clan, Ojibwe), IBCLC, is the chair of Kitsap County Breastfeeding Coalition and the founder of the Native Breastfeeding Coalition of California.

Ashley began laying the foundation for a breastfeeding coalition representing California’s native communities shortly after moving here from Washington, where she created a program to produce 10 new breastfeeding specialists from marginalized communities for the Kitsap community.

As a mother of six and full-time student providing lactation services both in-person and online, Ashley lives out her passion for promoting, protecting and supporting the generational benefits of breastfeeding. But she knows she can’t do it all alone.

“The lack of BIPOC lactation providers is an apartheid,” she said. “I learned that it is not enough to provide lactation care myself, and it is not enough to pray for our communities. We must champion for our communities. The best people to hold and uplift the community are those who come from it.”

Watch Ashley’s remarks.

Lucy Tyrala, Emerging Leader Award

A woman with dark curly hair dressed professionally standing in an office setting

Sonoma County RPSC Lucy Tyrala received USBC’s Emerging Leader Award.

Lucy is the perinatal services coordinator for Sonoma County Public Health and was recognized for the community-level works she does to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and human milk feeding, so that it is a viable option for families.

Lucy spent her time on the stage painting a picture of the change she wants to see in Sonoma County’s infant-feeding landscape, starting with assessing the impact of perinatal lactation on lactation initiation and duration, as well as parents’ lived experiences. She also hopes to bring more attention to the inequities 

“Safe co-sleeping can and does occur with an exclusively breastfed infant,” she said. “… I want to bring more attention to the structural inequities in place that are the actual culprit of increase in SIDS risk, including not promoting and supporting exclusive breastfeeding equitably as the norm — the default — to our most marginalized, pregnant birthing people.”

Watch Lucy’s remarks.