Statement from In Our Own Voice President and CEO Marcela Howell WASHINGTON — Once again,…
When You Live a Reproductive Justice Life
“In Our Own Voice is the safest place for a Black leader of a Reproductive Justice organization to be.” Dazon Dixon Diallo, founder and president of SisterLove, Inc.
I was thrilled to be among Black women leaders who shared their collective vision for the future during four inspirational days in September. We began with a leadership retreat, followed by a public conference themed “Living a Reproductive Justice Life: The Health and Well-Being of Black Women” attended by more than 125 people, and two days of sharing and strategizing in our annual Summit for Policy Change.
The executive directors of our eight partner organizations – Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, SisterLove,Inc., SisterReach, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, The Afiya Center, and Women With a Vision – spent two days (their second two-day retreat) envisioning the next five years of work for the In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda partnership. Working with a facilitator, the executive directors revisited our vision, values and mission for the partnership, evaluated the impact we have had on Reproductive Justice, and strategized for the future.
The next day, our one-day conference kicked off with the powerful words of poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, author of “The Body Is Not an Apology.” Attendees heard from RJ leaders about their lived experiences, learned about community-based solutions to child and maternal health challenges, and participated in visioning exercises that explored the future of the RJ movement and how each person can live their best Reproductive Justice life.
Following the public conference, we immediately went into our annual Summit with our partner organizations and got to work. I asked them to dissect our partnership and begin building a strategic plan that lifts up our work individually and collectively in their states. Some common themes of that discussion included changing the narrative by highlighting Black joy; finding creative and dynamic ways to tell our stories; and committing to center the most marginalized members of our community, even when it’s outside of our comfort zone.
Women of Color are in Every Room & Every Piece of Legislation
But the excitement of our work was not finished. On the following two days we joined the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum under “Intersections of Our Lives” to tell our stories to our congressional representatives. Nearly 300 women of color participated in an exciting all-day advocacy training and then, decked out in bright orange and white t-shirts, we charged up to the Hill to talk about policy and values with members of Congress.
Our opening rally with Representatives Ayanna Pressley (MA) and Veronica Escobar (TX) reminded us that women of color are in every room, in every bill, and at all stages of government. Rep. Pressley energized the group with two words, “You Belong.” She urged us to keep fighting to repeal the Hyde amendment which prevents women of low income from using federal funds for abortions and to pass the Each Woman Act to ensure that every woman no matter how much money she makes has access to full reproductive healthcare including abortion. She ended by telling us that we have to stay united because our destinies and our freedoms are tied.
Rep. Escobar told us that these are very challenging times for women and that her community of El Paso has witnessed first-hand the threat to women, families, and children by the Trump Administration. She reminded us that our voices and our unity are our power.
Our visits to our congressional representatives showed that they can no longer use wedge issues to separate us. They believe that when they’re talking to Latinas they should talk about immigration, when talking to Black women they should talk about criminal justice reform, and when talking to API women they should talk about equal pay. But we do not live single-issue lives. All of us have these same issues and many more in common and are fighting for change. Individually our organizations have a certain amount of clout on the Hill, but together we have power.
My hope is that we will continue to complicate the narrative by telling our collective stories to policy makers. As we hold them accountable, we will also remind them that they cannot continue to separate us or turn a deaf ear to our lived experiences. Our goal to tell our stories and bring more color to Capitol Hill was achieved!
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