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A Spotlight on State Leadership: Reproductive Justice State Enhancement Initiative

In 2022, In Our Own Voice launched the Reproductive Justice State Enhancement Initiative, a state-national collaboration with four emerging Reproductive Justice (RJ) organizations. Through funding, training and leadership development, this program prioritizes enhancing the capacity and strategic impact of Black-founded, Black-led state-based RJ groups by focusing on the core areas of organizational development and building a policy and advocacy program. 

We are excited to introduce you to five powerful leaders who are changing the landscape of Reproductive Justice in states and local communities. We asked about their RJ vision and what they are most excited about in their work over the next two years.  

Cicely Allen and Gwendolyn Winston, Co-Executive Directors of the Wisdom Institute— Detroit, Michigan.

Cicely Allen has years of experience supporting community-based projects that work to restore hope and provide support to marginalized communities, and Gwendolyn Winston is recognized as a long-standing visionary, leader and statewide organizer with vast expertise in racial equity, gender justice, and intersectional policy.  

“Our vision for Reproductive Justice in Michigan is that all women, particularly all Black women, know what it is to have full control of our bodies, as this has never been our reality in the history of this country. Wisdom Institute is most excited about the opportunity to be Spirit-centered, healer-artists who listen to the voices of Black women and the scholarship of our experiences and stand together to ignite collective action. We know we have a chance to achieve reproductive freedom and liberation and be out loud about it!” –Cicely Allen and Gwendolyn Winston.  

Kenda Sutton-El, Cofounder and Executive Director of Birth in Color RVA — Richmond, Virginia.  

Birth in Color RVA provides services to pregnant people to ensure a safe journey into parenthood and to make better decisions for their children, linking maternal and Reproductive Justice.  

In addition to leading Birth in Color RVA, Kenda serves as the Chair of the Virginia Doula Taskforce and the Richmond Regional Maternal Child Health Taskforce. She is also a member of the Virginia Maternal and Data outcomes Taskforce and Pregnancy Services for Incarceration workgroup and has been advocating for equitable doula reimbursement under Medicaid in Virginia.  

Kenda Sutton-El’s greatest pleasure in her work is seeing women become confident and excited about birth and the early parenting of their children. She firmly believes in the power of redirecting our fears and anxieties into finding new, empowering ways to experience birth and parenting.  

“My vision for Reproductive Justice in Virginia is that all people will have bodily autonomy and the right to make the choice of whether they want to conceive or not.” -Kenda Sutton-El 

Dr. Pamela Brug, Founder and Executive Director of The New Jersey Black Women Physician Association and board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist — New Jersey 

The New Jersey Black Women Physicians Association, (NJBWPA) is a nonprofit organization and network of Black women physicians dedicated to advocacy and the elimination of healthcare disparities within communities of color and other vulnerable populations.  

Dr. Pamela Brug remains passionate and excited about addressing health care disparities, specifically Black maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in New Jersey.  The organization has also been working to address health disparities connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“We form partnerships within the community to provide mentorship, education, and healthcare navigation. Our goal is to strengthen resilience and improve the health care experience.” -Dr. Pamela Brug, MD, MS.  

Saleemah McNeil, Founder and CEO of Oshun Family Center —Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Saleemah McNeil is a Reproductive Psychotherapist, Certified Lactation Consultant and Birth Doula. 

For over a decade, she has worked in maternal wellness agencies, family-centered clinics and local health systems at the forefront of combating the Black maternal mortality crisis.  

She looks forward to continuing to lead community collaboration and providing thought leadership to develop programs that address maternal health disparities in the Black community related to various health issues and overall satisfaction with maternity care and birth experiences.   

It is our goal to center the experiences of Black people and to create a welcoming space for healing and refuge…Our vision is to charge allies, legislators, lawmakers, hospitals, educators, and the community to shift from raising awareness to becoming action-oriented in regard to the Black maternal mortality crisis. We will work together alongside stakeholders to amplify Black voices in spaces where we are not heard. We are stronger together!” -Saleemah McNeil 

In Our Own Voice will provide technical assistance for organizational development, program development, and strategy support to the organizations for the next two years. To keep up with the innovative work of these organizations be sure to read our blog and follow us on social media. 

Lexi White serves as In Our Own Voice’s Director of State Policy and Advocacy, where she steers state-focused policy and advocacy strategies and strategic partner engagement and collaboration.

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