Planned Parenthood’s theme for Black History Month is #28DaysofPower, calling attention to the power of Black leaders — especially Black women inside and outside Planned Parenthood — who have made significant contributions to the history, present, and future of the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement. (@PPBlackComm).
Earlier this month I had the good fortune to attend the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC) as part of a contingent of national and affiliate staff along with some of our clergy colleagues, sponsored by PPFA. SDPC is an annual gathering of progressive Black clergy, seminarians, theologians, activists, and lay faith leaders who continue the rich legacy of the faith community’s engagement in social justice issues.
The conference was held in Memphis, Tennessee where 50 years ago this year, 1,300 Black sanitation workers walked off the job demanding safer working conditions and fair wages, and protesting abuse, racism, and discrimination by the city. The conference theme, Staying in the Struggle Until the End, was taken from the famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — who was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers — the day before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. Staying in the struggle until the end speaks to the strength and resilience of people of African descent in the face of unspeakable oppression and cruelty. It also reminds me of Planned Parenthood’s commitment to Care. No Matter What. Our promise as a health care provider, educator, and advocate to truly care about the people we serve, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
I was also privileged to be able to spend time outside of the conference with reproductive justice icons including Toni Bond Leonard, womanist scholar, co-founder of Reproductive Justice for Black Women and Girls and one of the “Queen Mothers” of the reproductive justice movement; and Cherisse Scott, “Sex Ed Evangelist,” founder and CEO of SisterReach and co-founder of Trust Black Women. These warrior women are part of an army of diverse, multi-generational, unapologetic activists supporting, respecting, and trusting Black women making personal reproductive decisions in consultation with their faith, their family, and their physician.
The U.S. has a troubling history of reproductive oppression that tried to control and limit the fertility of socially marginalized women — particularly low income women, women of color, indigenous and immigrant women, uninsured women, and women with disabilities. And Black women experience disproportionately higher rates of negative reproductive health outcomes compared with other racial and ethnic groups, including STIs, unintended pregnancy, preventable reproductive cancers, abortion, and maternal mortality. So it is imperative that we elevate and center the experiences of the most vulnerable among us — girls and women of color — in our work. Because when you center and uplift the most vulnerable in a society, everyone will benefit.
Throughout our history, African American providers, patients, and supporters have been a vital part of the Planned Parenthood community. If we are truly committed to erasing health disparities, we must continue to invest — both internally and externally — in policies, resources, and actions that dismantle existing barriers and systems of oppression and promote justice and equity, and continue to protect and expand access to reproductive health care for all people regardless of race, income, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or immigration status.
As Black History Month draws to a close, Planned Parenthood celebrates the vital contributions African Americans have made to American history, culture, science, arts, and innovation — especially their accomplishments in the fields of reproductive health, rights, and justice.
I returned from the conference inspired by my time with other Black women leaders working at the intersection of faith and reproductive health, rights, and justice, and re-energized by the collective wisdom and moral fortitude of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, ready to continue the work of developing and strengthening partnerships within our communities to help build a powerful movement toward reproductive freedom. Staying in the struggle until the end.