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Editor’s Note: This is part of the ongoing series “Field Notes,” which highlights Planned Parenthood’s grassroots organizing and legislative advocacy on behalf of commonsense policies that protect and foster the sexual and reproductive health and rights of individuals, families and communities. 

This month, we are sharing a Q&A with our new Black Organizing Program (BOP) Manager Michael Morgan and BOP Fellow Mariana Thomas.

Q: Mariana, we’re thrilled that you’re our inaugural Black Organizing Fellow. Can you introduce yourself to our supporters?

My name is Mariana Thomas (she/her), I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I received my B.A. in Cross-Cultural Communication at Hope College and my Master of Divinity at Princeton Theology Seminary. At both Hope and Princeton, I was a campus leader who organized my peers to change policies to make the schools more racially inclusive environments for students of color. Before the pandemic, I was also an avid traveler who loves being in community with other Black folx around the world. In my free time, I love to read, video chat with my family and friends, and play with my beloved cat, Bijou.

Q: Michael, can you tell Planned Parenthood of Illinois supporters about yourself and what led you to this area of organizing? 

Of course! My name is Michael Morgan, my pronouns are he/him, and I’ve always been an organizer. My first job after college was organizing to repeal the beverage tax. From that experience, I saw firsthand how advocating for public policy change can have a positive impact for individuals and can change the system. I’m from Northwest Indiana and grew up in a community where Planned Parenthood was a major health care provider so I’ve also seen how vital comprehensive medical care is. I believe I have a responsibility to help improve what isn’t working.

Q: You’re relatively new to Planned Parenthood and your role as our BOP Program Manager. What are you most looking forward to in this work?

I think we’ve got a real opportunity to expand the conversation about health care access by centering the experiences of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Frankly, the sexual and reproductive choices of Black people, particularly women and femmes, are often politicized but met with very few resources. Planned Parenthood is working to provide high-quality health care to all who need it, while also actively advocating for Black folks on the local, state, and federal levels. I’m looking forward to working with organizations, elected officials, activists, and community stakeholders to advance the safety, protection, and wellness of Black Illinoisans.

Q: Mariana, prior to this, you worked primarily in the religious academic space—that’s quite different from your role now. Can you talk about what led you to this work?

I come to this work as a Black Queer woman and my faith has propelled me into justice work and advocacy. So I look forward to advocating for comprehensive reproductive health care policies at the local and state levels so that Black folx can have access to safe and affordable reproductive health care that actually helps them, instead of disproportionately harming them. I’m also coming to this work excited to find new and innovative ways, especially during the pandemic, to engage with Black communities across Illinois, so that we can create a more mutually beneficial relationship with Planned Parenthood.

Q: Mariana, this being a new program, what is your vision for your role as our Black Organizing Fellow?

I want the BOP to be seen as a resource as well as strong advocates for safe, high quality reproductive health care for all Black folx in Illinois. I also hope our program will steer Planned Parenthood toward becoming fully collaborative members of the Black community, not just providers who happen to have offices located in Black communities. Ultimately, it is my vision that Planned Parenthood prioritize the voices and needs of Black Illinoisans and advocate for meaningful access to those resources at every level of government.

Q: Michael, how can interested folks get involved with the BOP? 

Everyone is welcome to join us. Folks just need to fill out this form and provide us with your contact information so we can reach out. You can also learn more about the program online, where we’ll house all of our media and programming updates.

Tags: grassroots organizing, #BlackHistoryMonth, Q&A, Black Organizing Program