Black History Month Interview With Kwajelyn Jackson

This Black History Month LPJL is honoring modern-day reproductive justice warriors. Today we chatted with Kwajelyn Jackson, the Executive Director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, Georgia about her impressive career, what reproductive justice means now, and the specifics of running a clinic (hint: it takes a lot of amazing people).

LPJL: So let’s start at the beginning. How has your activism evolved throughout your life?

I have always connected with the principles of feminism, even before I had a language for it, but I think it really solidified for me when I entered Spelman College. Prior to Spelman, I was trying to figure out how to be authentically me in a world that was telling me I was simultaneously too Black and not Black enough, as is the experience of many Black women. So I was trying to figure out what it meant to me to be a Black woman. And Spelman showed me that there were so many different ways for that to look and feel, that there were a multitude of ways to live in the world as a Black woman, each as genuine as the next, none invalidating another. That was where I started thinking more about systematic oppression, white supremacy, sexism, rape culture, and intersectionality. All of the pieces clicked together in a way that helped to set my future trajectory towards reproductive justice. Before I came to FWHC, I worked at an arts and social change nonprofit called WonderRoot. Also, my mother worked in social justice and anti-oppression movements, and ultimately reproductive health as well, and now works with me at Feminist Women’s Health Center. So I was very influenced by her work as well.

LPJL: How has your activism informed your job of running a clinic and your decision to transition in that role?

I was actually kinda thrust into this role in a lot of ways. I joined FWHC in 2013 as the Community Engagement Coordinator, primarily managing volunteers and volunteer programs. Then was promoted to Community Education and Advocacy Director shortly thereafter and was responsible for all of our outreach, public policy, and education programs. In January 2018, I was named co-director after our ED retired from the organization, and then transitioned to interim ED that April, and ultimately Executive Director in September of 2018. Over that time I had to learn a lot very quickly about the clinical parts of our organization and how to keep our operations on track. Fortunately, I have an excellent team of people who were willing to roll up their sleeves and go above and beyond to help us be the best version of ourselves. They run the clinic, not me.

I think what I brought with me to this role was a deep understanding of and commitment to reproductive justice and all of the tenets it stands upon. I brought my social justice and human rights values that inform everything from salaries to policies to art on the walls. I believe in shared decision making and collective visioning and those are the things that I believe make us strong. My vision alone is insufficient to take us where we need to go. It has to align with a larger collective vision to achieve the kind of liberation we are seeking.

LPJL: Talk about the importance of framing the abortion conversation around the reproductive justice movement.

Abortion access absent of a reproductive justice lens is insufficient in my opinion. There is no question that abortion is needed and it is necessary and it must be protected. Period. But what RJ does is gives abortion a context in the whole life of a person. RJ is concerned with the things that would allow us to thrive in this world, controlling our reproduction and fertility, having autonomy over our bodies, building healthy families that we choose, and living in safe communities where we are seen as whole. Abortion is a key piece of that, but it is not the center. Abortion on its own does not get us to liberation, but we know that we can’t get there without it either.

LPJL: Your activism has stopped some significant anti-abortion legislation from passing in Georgia. Can you maybe talk me through one specific piece of legislation and all the work you did around it to make sure it would not pass?

I don’t think there is a magic wand that anyone has to stop bad legislation when the will of the powers that be are there. We have been fortunate that our legislature has been distracted by other harmful attacks on our communities to pay us as close attention as they might otherwise. Since 2015, we have stopped TRAP bills, a “reversal” bill, and Personhood, among others, by lobbying fervently, raising public awareness and testifying in committee. We have a full time Public Affairs Coordinator who acts as our lobbyist during the legislative session. We also work in coalition with many other RJ orgs and allies to build power in our communities.

One of my proudest moments was in 2016 when we held an art exhibit inside the Georgia State Capitol called Typical American Families to highlight our first piece of proactive legislation, called the Strong Families Resolution. In order to elevate the voices of GA families, Strong Families and FWHC partnered with artists Carlton Mackey and Ross Oscar Grant to expand upon their photography project Typical American Families, and show the stories (with both portraits and testimonials) of our families and the challenges they face. We built upon their initial premise and explored the complex realities of families across metro Atlanta, exploring what their families need to thrive and the barriers they must overcome. The stories are centered on reproductive justice, healthcare access, economic challenges, discrimination, documentation status, age, incarceration, and other common challenges that are facing families. We also highlight how intersectional identities, like race, class, and gender, as well as family composition, affect a family’s ability to access the resources they need to thrive in a state like Georgia.

Our initial exhibition in February 2016 featured families selected by community partners SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, Racial Justice Action Center member groups Women on the Rise and LaGender, Forward Together’s Echoing Ida program, and FWHC’s Lifting Latina Voices Initiative, as well as portraits from the original artists collection. These were families with single parents, interracial, multiethnic, and interreligious families, chosen families, queer families, trans families, and families separated by incarceration. The photos were displayed in the State Capitol Rotunda for legislators and the general public to view. We held a brief press conference featuring legislators, speakers from the families, the artists and the host organizations. Though the resolution didn’t pass, we had an incredible day bringing voices into the State House that are not heard there often enough, speaking their truth.

LPJL: What is your activism plan for 2019? What are your biggest reproductive justice ambitions?

Most of my focus this year will be about strengthening our organizational infrastructure to support our current and future operations and programs, financially strong, at full capacity. I am working to solidify our foundation such that the next generation of leaders can build on it with confidence. Our organization is working on several policy areas, like removing funding for CPC and protecting abortion access in Georgia, improving maternal health outcomes for Black women, and dignity for incarcerated women and trans folks.

My biggest RJ dream right now is operationalizing reproductive justice in our clinic in a visible and tangible way. There are some incredible folks, like Monica McLemore, Karen Scott, and Nikia Grayson who are brilliant clinicians with a keen understanding of reproductive justice and the vision of how to incorporate it into clinic spaces. I want to be in that number! I want to tools and the guidance to carefully examine and adapt our clinic to center communities of color, queer and trans folks, low income and poor folks, such that the experience is tailored to their specific needs. And I want our services to be as comprehensive as we can accommodate to include so much more than abortion, that we are a destination for all of folks reproductive health needs.

LPJL: A huge part of your job is community outreach. What do you think are the most effective ways people can build local communities that support abortion and abortion services?

Unfortunately I don’t get to do as much outreach as I did in my former role, but it is hugely important to our work overall. I think the best way to build support is to see people fully. To speak to their full lives and experiences rather than their body parts. So using RJ helps us find an entry point to talk to almost anyone who is open. If we start by talking about birth and parenting and breast feeding, we can get to the importance of spacing pregnancies, reliable contraceptives, and the need for abortion. We can start by talking about health care access that is affordable and comprehensive and move towards how legislators should not impose on people’s health care decisions to the over-regulation of abortion.

I believe that all forms of oppression are linked to one another and cannot be separated. I believe that the multiple identities that we hold complicate and compound the way we experience oppression and the world. I don’t think one can compartmentalize their identities or the identities of others in order to deal with oppression or get free. I think it is past time for us to work intersectionally on issues that are affecting the places where communities overlap. So for me I will never stop pressing for intersectionality in our movements above all else. That is the only way we can truly get free.

LPJL: What are some of the biggest misconceptions you have noticed people have about abortion and more broadly, reproductive justice?

I think one of the most annoying misconceptions is that abortion is diametrically opposed to birth and pregnancy. That people who have or provide abortions hate babies. We know that is the majority of the people who get abortions are already parents and will possibly parent again one day. It is a silly notion.

I think one of the most dangerous and hurtful misconceptions is that abortion is “Black genocide” and harmful to Black communities. We hear this a lot from anti’s [anti-choicers] who don’t actually care about Black people or our upliftment, but use this language to shame us for our decision making. One of the most pervasive tools of white supremacy is paternalism toward Black people, specifically infantilizing Black women as incapable of making decisions on their own. The prevailing thought the we don’t know what is good for us and need white people or politicians to tell us how to behave in an acceptable way rather than trusting us to know exactly what we need to thrive.

LPJL: When we were visiting, we saw a fake clinic van right outside your clinic. What have you observed about their tactics?

Because of construction on the land across the street from us, the van can no longer park outside our building. But they are still active around the city. We know that most often vans like these are connected to CPCs and are targeting Black and Brown communities. Our protestors often use similar tactics to what I named above, yelling Black Lives Matter to our staff and patients, using loudspeakers to shout offensive things at us, even playing recordings of babies crying. They are more annoying than dangerous, but it is certainly a hard thing to endure.

LPJL: I’d love to learn more about the Errin J. Vuley Fellows! Can you talk to me about how you’ve seen the program and Fellows evolve and how important it is to teach reproductive justice! What do you think the importance is of creating leaders of tomorrow?

The Errin J. Vuley Fellow Program uses a reproductive justice framework to strengthen the fellows’ skills and knowledge, especially for abortion access, trans justice, and racial justice. Over ten months, the fellows meet for interactive workshops that progress, from expanding their knowledge and skills, to opportunities to apply what they’ve learned and showcase their collaborative work. The fellows also build their social justice network through various expert facilitators that are brought on board. Finally, each fellow receives a launch forward award that includes a small stipend or tools to help them complete a social justice project or launch a social justice initiative. Our first cohort of Errin J. Vuley Fellows graduated in December 2017 and our second cohort graduated in December 2018.

Facilitators from a number of organizations donated their time to the fellows program including ARC-Southeast, NAPAWF, Center for Disease Control, UGA, Emory, Georgia Equality, and the Housing Justice league.

The program reached over 150 people through open events and those facilitated by the fellows. With the support of Feminist Center, more than half of our fellows from the first cohort went on to facilitate independent events and activities on issues of sexual and reproductive health. Many of our fellows have since been absorbed into the movement whether through full-time positions at other organizations or through continuing their education at graduate schools.  Some have been hired full time by us as well!

LPJL: What one thing do you wish everyone knew about reproductive justice in general? And what one thing do you wish everyone knew about reproductive justice in 2019?

That it is for EVERYONE!!! That it is not anti-white, but it is anti-white supremacy. That it is expansive enough to provide a lens for so many human rights issues, spacious enough to hold queer and trans issues, environmental issues, housing and economic justice, food justice, technology, and so much more! That it is a vision for a just future and a path towards real equity. That it is rooted and established in love.

Kenya Martin on the Importance of Storytelling

Kenya Martin used to work as an abortion counselor in Texas and now she’s the Communications Program Coordinator for We Testify, a program of the National Network of Abortion Funds. She chatted with LPJL about her personal abortion story sharing experience and why she advocates for abortion.

On telling her own story to Team LPJL at the Abortion Care Network Conference:

That’s when I started to realize, “Oh, I’m just a storyteller. I don’t even know these people and I just told them my whole abortion story.”

It’s just amazing how your life comes full circle.

I worked at an abortion clinic where I’d received services the month before. I became very ill while I was in the office. I started experiencing the most excruciating pain. They did an ultrasound and they sent me to the emergency room, because they felt like one of my fallopian tubes was threatening to rupture.

So I went to the hospital and discovered I had an ectopic pregnancy. I had ruptured one of my fallopian tubes and I was bleeding internally. I had to have emergency surgery. So after all that happened I was just like, “Oh my goodness! My abortion clinic saved my life!” This is the place that I’ve gone to before for services and they saved me again.

And I wanted to do more. I went to my follow-up appointment two weeks later and I asked, “Are you guys hiring?” The doctor who owns the clinic  actually delivered my daughter 18 years ago and he’s done my abortions. His wife is the nurse practitioner so I was seeing her. I’ve always admired them. I’ve loved them like my family and I wanted to work for them. I expressed it that day and she was like, “Well just go to the clinic and see. I’m sure they could find something for you to do.”  And sure enough they hired me.

I wanted to be able to provide the same kind of compassionate care that I received. That’s why I say it’s just amazing how your life comes full circle and something that seems so terrible at the time can happen in your life and it leads you to what your true purpose is. And I’ve been searching for it for a long time. I’ve always felt like I’m supposed to be doing something else; so much more.

My life was spared so I can tell my truth and help people.  

At my first Abortion Care Network Conference, meeting people like LPJL & We Testify and sharing my story with everybody I was like, Wow how am I here right now? How is all of this happening? It’s all making sense! Every abortion that I had was for me to get to this day where I can help other people not feel shameful about what they’re going through.  And we don’t have to be hush hush about doing what was best for our lives.

I am honored to be able to do this work and finally make sense of my life after everything that had happened.

On Why Storytelling is So Important to Her, Now More Than Ever:

The most important thing to share when telling your story is just your personal truth. No two stories are the same. They’re not synonymous. They don’t always intertwine. But what is the same is that it was an abortion. You did what you knew was best at the time.  

Right now we need to dispel some of the myths and make abortion more relatable. Pairing an actual person with the story, connecting a real person with the procedure or the medication abortion process, whichever option they chose, having someone actually say “This is why I made this choice”.

Especially right now with what’s going on with the bills [in New York and Virginia] about later abortion…. What I’m seeing on social media are people being really ugly about it. I mean saying really nasty things and demoralizing people. It shows that people don’t actually understand later abortion. Hearing the story from someone who actually experienced it is most valuable. We don’t need the politicians to tell our stories. We don’t really need third parties to tell our stories. We need to hear the story from the person that actually experienced it.

I started talking about my abortion during my time working in the abortion clinic providing pre-procedural, informed consent counseling. That’s explaining the abortion process and their options, like the medication abortion option versus the surgical procedure option, and answering questions so they could make the best decision for themselves. Most importantly, I made sure that an abortion was a choice they were making solely on their own, free of coercion. Informed consent counseling involves logistical paperwork. It explains what is required by law for the clinic to tell the patient, explaining, especially in Texas, that what the law requires isn’t fact-based, but legally you have to read them the required language.

I would notice how distraught they were about even being in the clinic and having to consider an abortion. They would be so torn up, blaming and judging themselves very harshly. I started telling them, “You are human just like I am. I sat on the other side of that table, just the same as you. I have had abortions. I was doing what was best for my life and you are doing what’s best for you. If there wasn’t a need for abortion clinics they would not exist. You have to trust that you’re making the best decision for you and that’s it. And if this is not something that you can live with, then don’t do it. But if this is something that you know is gonna be good for you, your family, your life as a whole, then this what you should focus basing your decision on.”

And then I would share my situation and what led me to my abortion. I would see the tone of the conversation would change. Their body language would change. They would feel relieved that they weren’t alone. Because they’d never been in contact with somebody who told them, “I had an abortion too.”

On Multiple Abortion Stigma:

A lot of people really carry this deep-rooted shame for having to go to an abortion clinic more than once. When really you’re just taking care of yourself. You are going back to a clinic [where] you received really good services, that gave you really good care, that helped you talk through things, supported you in doing what’s best for you. It’s not necessary to be ashamed about that.

They would be beating themselves up like, I cannot believe I’m here again. I can’t believe I let myself get in this situation. I should know better, having a lot of negative self-talk. So then I would say, “Look, I have had to sit on the other side of that table more than once myself. Life happens. Life will continue to happen. You’ve gone to the dentist more than once. You’ve probably had more than one cavity. You took care of it. It’s no different. If you don’t want to do this more than once you don’t have to. But if you do, you are making the best option for your life and there’s no shame in that.”

I saw that sharing that story was helpful with changing multiple abortion stigma. Because it is a real stigma. I know so many people who will not talk about it, who will never say they did it more than once. You have people who aren’t even comfortable saying they did it once, so they’re really uncomfortable saying they did it more than once. It’s been really helpful sharing with people that multiple abortion stories do exist. It’s real, and not uncommon. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking services more than once.

Because had I carried each pregnancy to term, I would still be judged. If I have six abortions, I’m a single black woman who’s irresponsible. So either way I’m gonna be talked about. So, let’s just call it what it is: I did what was best for me. The person who chooses to have six children did what was best for them. I would share that the doctor told me it’s a safe medical procedure. You can have as many abortions as you need to. And then some people come back and say, “But using abortion for birth control.” But I mean, it is. So what!?! If this is what I choose to use as my form of birth control then that’s my choice. But let’s shut that down right there. We can’t let others define a conversation so that it puts us in a defensive position for doing what is best for our lives.

I also felt it important to ask people what would you do if you called the clinic for services and we were no longer open? How would it make you feel about not having abortion as an option and having someone make that choice for you by taking your right away? I would then say, “Be glad that we’re still open. Be glad that when you call that phone someone answered.” This is why it’s important to remove the shame and start talking about it openly. This is the way we take back our power and normalize it. This is how we are going to help keep clinics open.

Fake Clinic Motto: The Customer Is Always Right… Unless Of Course It Affects Me Negatively In Any Way

Imagine waking up every day and thinking “my job at this nonprofit  is really just about me.” Imagine going to work and thinking “I’m here to protect all the little zygotes, but really, this is just about me.” Because… that’s gotta be what people at CPCs think, right? Why else would they ceaselessly beat the drums of “my free speech is the most important thing in the world… not… you know… serving my patients. Not providing care. Not helping OTHER people. No no, what matters most is me being allowed to say whatever I want whenever I want to because that is what free speech is, also I refuse to look up what free speech is.”

It was the one-two punch of yesterday’s Catholic hospitals article and today’s article about fake clinics in Illinois that got us feeling super, super bummed. I mean look, we read about the deceptive practices of fake clinics all the time. They’re garbage. Their mentality has always been baffling. But the recent “free speech” arguments just are so… inhospitable. And frankly, so not Christian. These are people that are blatantly saying “our needs matter most… not the needs of those we allegedly serve.” AND the law is saying “Yeah sure.” And like… that’s disgusting. So anyway, that’s something to mull over this Tuesday!

The Rest of the News

Hey Democrats, How About We Don’t Say That You Can Believe Whatever You Want and Still Get to Call Yourself A Democrat, Just Because We’re Trying to Drum Up The Numbers

An Anti-Abortion Democrat, A Former Head of the American Nazi Party, and An “Independent” Walk Into A Blue State Election…

Sidewalk Screamers Try Desperately to Be “Cool” With the “Youths”

LPJL DAILY TAKEDOWN – APRIL 27TH, 2018

Silence, please! As you know, we here at LPJL are all about the LOUD, aka the aural equivalent of CAPS (sorry, didn’t mean to YELL.) But today, we’re advocating for silence in a number of ways.

First, we want to recognize the silencing of LGBTQ students. We can do that by participating in the GLSEN Day of Silence today, April 27. As GLSEN explains “The Day of Silence is a national movement to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ students in school, which demands that school leaders take action to be more inclusive.” Nearly a third of LGBTQ students miss some school due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. The Day of Silence is a way to support their voices and stand up against bullying!

Speaking of bullies, let’s talk about some anti-choicers! The second way we want to promote silence today is by pointing out that there are lot of nasty types out there who really need to STFU already. Like hater for lyfe Kevin Williamson. This was a guy whose claim to fame was tweeting out that women who have abortions should be executed by hanging, a position that’s extreme even by the hypocritical standards of the “pro-life” crowd. Although we have to admit, “String the varmints up!” is kind of tame compared to some of the poison that gets spewed by the nutcases chanting outside clinics. So who ends up publishing this monster? The Washington “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Post! Great. In a world where many people have to struggle to be heard at all, this turd gets a platform in the Washington Post to spew his vitriolic lies.

Finally, we really want to recommend silence for anyone who ever uses the term “litmus test” in reference to abortion and progressive politics. We’re not saying that people who are anti-choice should be silenced, but there is a time and a place for expressing their beliefs, and it’s called the 19th century. Support for abortion rights isn’t a “litmus test.” It’s a core value. Progressives have a big tent, but clowns are encouraged to go try the sideshow.

OK, we’re having trouble holding back on the CAPS KEY, so we have to wrap this up. After today’s Day of Silence, we’ll be turning the volume back up for more fun and NOISY events like this week’s #ExposeFakeClinics Interactive Theater and this summer’s upcoming Vagical Mystery Tour. See you there—LOUD & PROUD!

LPJL DAILY TAKEDOWN – MARCH 15th, 2018

Cancer screenings and birth control? Not if they offend our delicate sensibilities. NEBRASKA is joining the list of states that are denying ANY funding to ANY clinic that also provides abortion services. Hello! Logic tells you that will endanger tens of thousands of women. And the experience of TEXAS tells you that too—where, yup, some 100,000 fewer women are getting cancer screenings after Texas defunded Planned Parenthood. Stupid has consequences! 

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Here’s a heartbreaking look at some of the real world impact of the push to ban abortion in cases involving Down syndrome. Do anti-choice zealots care if their demands create heartache and trauma for families? Not if their rhetoric about eugenics and the Holocaust are any indication.

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Open up! ARIZONA would like to conduct a brief survey in your uterus. Some AZ-holes in the legislature want to require women to explain the reason they want an abortion! If you think you must have read that wrong—then you read it right! Get the details in the New Times piece. This is truly batshit, Arizona! 

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This great Rewire piece reveals a severe case of fetal attraction: a New Hampshire lawmaker just described seeing a kidney-beaned size fetus “running” and “playing” in the womb. She joins the Texas legislator who says he saw one masturbating. Funny stupid? Yes. Funny dangerous? More so. It’s part of their quest to attribute “personhood” to fetuses, zygotes, and any fertilized egg in general.

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And here, Rewire lowers the boom on FAKE clinics with their kickass podcast Boom! Lawyered. With the big SCOTUS hearing on fake clinics coming up next week, this is the perfect time to get your inform on. Thanks, Rewire!