The Emerging Leaders in Lactation (ELL) Scholarship was established in 2017 in the spirit of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion among the community of IBCLC candidates and future leaders. For Semaj Bruce, one of the first class of ELL Scholars, her journey to becoming an IBCLC began long before that. Semaj breastfed her two children. She struggled the first time around and found the support she needed through a peer counselor with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program (USA). She eventually became a peer counselor herself, knowing the difference it had made in her own breastfeeding journey. Within a few years, she was working full-time in lactation.
In 2017, she saw an email advertising the ELL Scholarship. Then, a community partner forwarded her the same email, encouraging her to apply. Semaj viewed it as a sign.
At the time, her sister and her sister’s six children were living with her. Things were tight. But, she said, “The scholarship was just a breath of fresh air!” When she received the scholarship, she focused on her goal intensively. She got a laptop and signed up for courses that would otherwise be out of reach. She purchased books. She learned everything she could. She took the examination in October 2019.
In December, she received the letter for which she’d waited so long. Semaj recently said, “It was the best Christmas present! I lit the whole house up with a joyful scream! The kids knew what it must mean, and they came running downstairs, asking, ‘Did you get it? Did you get it?’ I was so happy that I could answer, ‘yes.’”
With the IBCLC credential after her name, she feels that it “adds value to the information I provide at the community table.” Semaj has big plans. She is working to make breastfeeding the norm for families of colour. According to Semaj, “There is support out there for families. When we get together and all speak the same language about breastfeeding, mothers go to so many appointments with their infants and hear the same thing. Hopefully that lengthens their breastfeeding journey.”
In addition to her work at the Las Vegas Urban League, she is currently involved with the Kijiji Sisterhood of Southern Nevada as a board member, the San Jose Mothers’ Milk Bank – Las Vegas Depot, and the March of Dimes. She hopes to continue to lead at the nonprofits where she works and volunteers to help change the understanding of breastfeeding in her community and increase the number of mothers who breastfeed. Someday, she hopes to start her own practice.
“Without this scholarship, the knob on the door would not have been reachable,” Ms. Bruce concluded. “The scholarship brought me hope, and I hope others don’t hesitate to go find help when they need it. Don’t give up! New babies are born every day, and they need us!”