A recent Cal State Long Beach graduate has become the center of controversy after a photograph showing her nursing her 4-month-old daughter during her graduation went viral this week.
Karlesha Thurman, 25, never expected the photograph would generate negative backlash on the Internet or that she would also become a source of inspiration for other breastfeeding mothers nationwide.
"I didn't think it was a big deal at the time," she said. "I am in total shock by the response."
The public fervor over her photograph started after Thurman briefly posted it to the Black Women Do Breastfeed Facebook page as a comment supporting another mother.
A friend had taken the photograph of Thurman, who was donning a cap and gown, as she breastfed her daughter, Aaliyah, who had become hungry during her May 22 graduation ceremony at Cal State Long Beach.
"To me, it was something natural," said Thurman, an accounting major.
Her actions, she said, didn't appear to bother anyone around her during the ceremony.
Soon after Thurman posted the photograph, she noticed that it had generated harsh criticism, so she removed it.
But it was too late.
The photograph had already been picked up by media and quickly became viral.
Thurman has received more than 500 Facebook messages, which she said have come from fellow mothers who described her as an inspiration and empowering.
“I started a movement without doing it intentionally,” she said.
She has accepted several speaking engagements to talk about breastfeeding.
Thurman, however, has stayed away from Twitter, where she said she has received the most negative backlash.
One woman on Twitter said “Honestly? Shaming a woman for breast feeding at her graduation? Babies gotta eat too…Y’all trip over the stupidest things.”
Some critics, she said, have called her a single mother, which she is not. They have also turned the photograph into an issue about her race and sexuality.
But Thurman said she is not allowing the negative feedback to bother her. She said if she can inspire any of her naysayers to change their minds about breastfeeding in public, then she will know she has done a “good thing.”
After all, she said “breasts are made for breastfeeding.”
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