During ESSENCE Fest in New Orleans, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice…
College campuses are fertile ground for the Reproductive Justice movement(RJ), a movement firmly rooted in Black feminist theory, advocating for the complete economic, social and political power and resources to make decisions about our bodies, families and communities. From LGBTQIA+ rights on campus, to Title IX protections, to mental health resources, college students are constantly grappling with RJ issues, often standing on the front lines to propel major change. The advocacy opportunities are endless, particularly among historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where there is a long and significant legacy of student activism and political involvement.
That is why In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda created the Next Generation Leadership Institute, a paid two-year fellowship program that is open to HBCU students interested in growing their campus advocacy and leadership through the Reproductive Justice lens.
“Our goal was to build a pipeline to ensure that the voices of students from HBCUs are at
the forefront of the RJ movement while providing training and resources to students to become the next generation of RJ leaders,” said Marcela Howell, In Our Own Voice president and CEO. “We wanted to ensure that activists on HBCUs had the opportunity to participate in this one-of-a-kind fellowship.”
The most recent class (2020-2022) of 10 exceptional student leaders have devoted their time, energy and abilities to actualizing the future of the RJ movement by creating innovative programming that centered on raising awareness about a wide array of issues impacting Black women, girls and gender-expansive people. Fellows hail from HBCUs across the nation. The graduates attend Dillard University, Hampton University, Howard University, Lincoln University and Spelman College.
To honor their dedication and commitment to the program, In Our Own Voice hosted a three-day retreat in Washington, D.C. from March 31-April 3. During the retreat, the group received media and message training, professional headshots, and attended workshops on how to build a bolder and brighter RJ movement.
“We wanted to focus on period poverty [on our campus] because of the frightening statistic in the state of Louisiana that 1 in 4 women have to choose between menstrual products or their next meal,” said Dillard University fellow Kalaya Sibley.
Creating and developing campus programs to advocate for RJ issues expanded the fellows’ networks, grew their policy literacy and strengthened their knowledge of Reproductive Justice issues.
“I considered myself an advocate before the program, but it gave me the tools to advocate in the most strategic way,” Howard University fellow Madison Harris explains. “The program enabled me to learn about Reproductive Justice issues and with that knowledge, I was able to identify which ones strongly resonate with the needs of my campus.”
Lincoln University fellow Shalae Matthews echoes Harris’ sentiments, saying that working with other fellows and being exposed to often-unsung Reproductive Justice activists helped her discover her leadership style. “The program brought me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I was able to build confidence through our monthly webinars, programs and assignments.”
While the 2020-2022 fellows have completed their time in the program, what they learned is helping them with their future endeavors, including their career ambitions.
“Next Generation Leadership Institutes graduates are prepared to serve as active change agents who can advance Reproductive Justice in their schoolwork, careers, and future endeavors,” said Giovanteey Bishop, In Our Own Voice senior program manager.
“The Next Generation Leadership Institute forced me to understand the change that I want to make is systemic and not a one-off,” said Hampton University fellow Amber Wynne. “I came into the fellowship a nursing student who wanted to be right there with the patient at all times but during my time in the program, I realized I’m really interested in healthcare policy and how we can systemically protect Black people with equitable policy. I’m very grateful to the program because it made me realize I’m passionate about creating a world that holds representatives accountable through policy and law.”
The Next Generation Leadership Institute is now seeking applicants for its 2022-2024 class. HBCU students looking to grow their skillsets in advocacy, public policy, strategic communications, leadership and campus organizing through the Reproductive Justice lens should apply by April 30, 2022.