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Recently I worked with Planned Parenthood of Illinois as a co-facilitator for a racial healing circle with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Specialist Cassandra Solis. As Black History Month begins, it’s important for everyone to reflect, understand and take steps toward change. I’m so proud PPIL has started on this necessary work.

I decided to become a racial healing co-facilitator because, frankly, I was curious. Much of my career has been dedicated to social justice organizations. I was now looking for areas of professional growth outside of my work as President of the Forest Preserve Foundation

I was happy to co-facilitate the racial healing circle at Planned Parenthood, an organization which has been a running thread through my life. In high school I would skip classes to take friends to get services at the Planned Parenthood clinic that used to be housed at Rush University Hospital. I always made sure to support my friends who needed birth control and would take them to get tested if they didn’t use that protection. I was thankful Planned Parenthood was there for the things young people go through when they don’t have the right information or make mistakes. 

I also got to know PPIL President and CEO Jennifer Welch when I was the Vice President of Programs and Advocacy for the Chicago Foundation for Women. We bonded over our common support of women’s rights.

As a leading provider of reproductive health across Illinois, Planned Parenthood understands that regardless of income, health disparities for people of color are disproportionately higher than their white counterparts by most measures of reproductive health. This includes HIV infection and STDs, as well as maternal and infant mortality. Because of these disparities, PPIL is committed to advancing racial equity and justice in everything it does, including relationships between co-workers. 

The racial healing circle with Planned Parenthood of Illinois focused on individual reflection and unconditional empathy in a group setting as well as one-on-one. There was deep understanding obtained through really listening and not always engaging in the dialogue. Working on this individual level can assist with systemic equality and facilitate more understanding between coworkers. It was powerful to participate and serve everyone in the circle. 

As I reflect on the celebration of Black History Month and look at how much work is yet to be done,I am so proud to be a supporter of Planned Parenthood. I make sure my teenage daughter and my tween son know that Planned Parenthood’s door is always open to them...no matter what.

Shelley A. Davis is the President of the Forest Preserve Foundation.

Tags: women's health, Health Care, Black History Month, Health Equity, health, sexual health, Sexual and Reproductive Health, disparity