Planned Parenthood strives to create a world where sexual and reproductive health care is accessible, affordable, and compassionate — no matter what.
Black women have always championed reproductive freedom and the elimination of racism and sexism as an essential element of the struggle toward civil rights. This Black History Month, Planned Parenthood honors the resilience of Black women like Dr. N. Louise Young and Dr. Thelma Patten Law, two of the first Black women health care providers at Planned Parenthood — and the resistance of women like Angela Davis who continue to fight for the full dignity, autonomy and the humanity of all women.
In commemoration of Black History Month each year, we lift up and celebrate those who have defied their time and circumstances to become Dream Keepers and freedom fighters. #100YearsStrong of Planned Parenthood could not be possible without the vision, tenacity and determination of those who have kept and protected the dream of reproductive freedom, justice and autonomy.
The 2017 Dream Keepers
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Journalist, Civil Rights Activist
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was the most prominent Black woman journalist of the late 19th and early 20th century. Her research and reporting around the lynching of Black people helped to bring national attention to the crisis and pushed federal legislation to hold mobs accountable.
Marsha P. Johnson Activist, Stonewall Rioter
Marsha P. Johnson, co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), is credited with being one of the first people to resist the police during the Stonewall Riots of 1969. On the commemorative anniversary of the riots in 1970, Johnson led protesters to the Women’s Detention Center of New York chanting, “Free our sisters. Free ourselves,” which demonstrated early solidarity between LGBTQ rights and anti-prison movements.
Former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm Black Feminist, Former Presidential Candidate
In 1990, Shirley Chisholm — along with former Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Faye Wattleton, Byllye Avery, Donna Brazile, Dorothy Height, Maxine Waters, and Julianne Malveaux (among others) — formed the group African American Women for Reproductive Freedom to show their support for Roe v. Wade, doing so with what we now call a reproductive -justice framework. The former New York representative was the first African American woman elected to Congress. During her seven terms, Rep. Chisholm pioneered the Congressional Black Caucus and was an unwavering champion for women’s reproductive rights and access to health care, including abortion. In 2015, President Obama awarded Rep. Chisholm with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award.
Dr. N. Louise Young
Dr. N. Louise Young, a gynecologist and obstetrician, opened her practice in Baltimore in 1932. She later operated a Planned Parenthood health center that was opened with the assistance of the local Urban League and other community partners.
Dr. Thelma Patten Law
Dr. Thelma Patten Law becomes one of the first Black women ob-gyns in Texas. She provided health care for more than 25 years at the Planned Parenthood Houston Health Center, which opened in 1936.
Faye Wattleton Author, Advocate for Reproductive Freedom, Former President of PPFA
In 1978, Wattleton became the youngest individual at the time and the first African American woman to serve as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). During Wattleton’s 14–year tenure, PPFA became one of the nation’s largest charitable organizations. Under Wattleton’s leadership, the organization secured federal funding for birth control and prenatal programs; fought against efforts to restrict legal abortions; and, along with reproductive health allies, helped to legalize the sale of abortion pill RU-486 in the United States.
The Coiners of Reproductive Justice
Black women’s existence has inherently challenged the “choice vs. life” argument. However the creation and coining of reproductive justice ushered in a new framework where women of color could express all of the ways their sexual and reproductive autonomy is systemically limited.
Dr. Dorothy Roberts Author, Scholar, Professor
Dorothy Roberts is an acclaimed scholar of race, gender and the law. Her books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011); Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002), and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997) — all of which have shaped and informed scholarship around reproductive justice.
Monica Roberts Historian, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of TransGriot
Monica Roberts, aka the TransGriot, is a native Houstonian and trailblazing trans community leader. She works diligently at educating and encouraging acceptance of trans people inside and outside the larger African-American community and is an award-winning blogger, history buff, thinker, lecturer and passionate advocate on trans issues.
Dr. Iva Carruthers Past President of Urban Outreach Foundation, General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Carruthers uses her ministry as a vehicle for addressing social issues, particularly those involving people of African descent both in the United States and abroad. She is past president of the Urban Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit, interdenominational organization that assists African and African-American communities with education, health care, and community development.
Rev. Dr. Alethea Smith-Withers Founder and Pastor; The Pavilion of God, Washington, DC; and Chair of the Board of Directors for Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Rev. Smith-Withers has been an active advocate for reproductive justice for many years. She is currently serving as the chair of the board of directors of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). She is the founder and pastor of The Pavilion of God, a Baptist Church in DC. She hosts “Rev UP with Rev. Alethea”, a BlogTalkRadio show.
Rev. Dr. Susan Moore Associate Minister at All Souls Church Unitarian
Dr. Moore’s ministry has focused upon the challenges facing urban America. An HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy prevention educator and trainer, she has worked with several community and faith-based groups, including the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Planned Parenthood, and AIDS Action Foundation. She actively advocates for a national, coordinated AIDS strategy to reduce racial disparities, lower the incidence of infection, increase access to care, and involve all stakeholders.
Bevy Smith CEO and Founder of Dinner with Bevy
A Harlem native and New York fashion fixture, Smith is outspoken about women’s empowerment and social justice. She gives back by connecting and engaging a network of top leaders to promote social change.
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw Scholar, Professor at the UCLA and Columbia Schools of Law
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is a feminist scholar and writer who coined the term “Intersectionality.” Kimberlé is the co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, which developed seminal research on Black women and girls and the school-to-prison pipeline and policing, including, respectively: “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected” and “Say Her Name.”
Jazmine is a big fine woman who specializes in reproductive justice and agricultural economic development.
Her dedication to public scholarship and activism is driven by a passion to amplify feminist and reproductive justice discourse around Black women and girls, especially those in Mississippi and the broader South.
Amandla Stenberg Actress, Author
This Black queer feminist makes us look forward to the next generation of feminist leaders and thinkers.
Her YouTube video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” clapped-back against the cultural appropriation of Black fashion and style and won our hearts.
Monica Simpson Executive Director of SisterSong National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective
At SisterSong National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Simpson works to amplify and strengthen the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to ensure reproductive justice through securing human rights. She has organized extensively against the systematic physical and emotional violence inflicted upon the minds, bodies, and spirits of African Americans with an emphasis on African-American women and the African-American LGBT community.
Deon Haywood Executive Director, Women With A Vision, Inc.
Haywood works tirelessly to improve quality of life and health outcomes for marginalized women of color. Since Hurricane Katrina, Haywood has led Women With a Vision, a New Orleans-based community organization addressing the complex intersection of socio-economic injustices and health disparities.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Congresswoman, D-TX 18th District
Congresswoman Jackson Lee has been a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood and women’s health.
This year she has become a valuable champion as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, where she was vocal at both hearings displaying a clear understanding of the important role Planned Parenthood health centers play in the communities they serve. She also came to the floor on several occasions and attended a Planned Parenthood’s press conference, lending her voice in the fight against backwards legislation.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett became a supporter of Planned Parenthood this year when she spoke out for Planned Parenthood health center patients during a Oversight and Government Reform hearing, where she is a member, commenting that she would like a Planned Parenthood health center in the Virgin Islands.
As a fierce, passionate, Black feminist and reproductive health advocate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has supported Planned Parenthood unwaveringly. She also sponsored the EACH Woman Act and, in 2015, held an event with young women on abortion access.
My version of a Shattered Glass Miko and Soundwave.
The Decepticon spy likes humans. Though he doesn’t always understand them, and what humans they work with don’t always have the patience to translate Soundwave’s clipped together radio speech. Then he meets 12 year old Miko, and instantly downloads every ASL course he can find so he can more easily communicate with her.
Miko is thrilled to have someone who takes the time to make sure she knows what’s going on, as it’s sometimes hard to lip read with giant robots. (It gets a little easier when she gets cochlear implants, but she and Soundwave still prefer signing)
- in which Alexander Hamilton has (audio-visual) synesthesia and he sees John Laurens’s voice in a series of yellows
Before John, Alex saw the world in a series of murky colors. The sounds of the world muddled together in colors of distorted greens and apocalyptic yellows. Every so often he’d experience a slum of mud stained blues, and luckily those would only happen once in a blue moon. Aside from that, those were the colors Alex experience day in and day out. Until he met John.
When he met John, his world went from a series of murkiness, to the brightest of hues, colors he hadn’t experienced since before his mother passed away.
John was a soft, sun-shining, yellow.
Whenever he spoke, hues of both soft and sharp yellows would fill Alexander’s senses. When his voice was soft, and above a whisper, he saw the sweetest of honey yellows; and when his voice was pitched with excitement, Alex saw bursts of yellow. Ranging from the lightest of pastel yellows, to the smoothest of lemony-yellows, Alex loved his sunshine, John Laurens. He especially loved it when John laughed, my god did he love it.
Whenever he did, he’d instantly be blinding with an overwhelming sight of the brightest of yellow’s, instantly reminding him of the sun. His laughter was probably the best sounds he’d ever heard, and the brightest color he’d ever seen.
But of course, with the brightest of colors came the darkest of hues. And they effected Alex the most when John was upset.
Whenever John was upset, Alex saw it before he heard it. But no matter how much he tried to prep himself for the murky, washed out yellows, the colors that came with the broken tone in John’s voice always crushed him.
When John’s voice became laced with a cracking, dark blue, and a black stained yellow, Alexander’s heart shattered. He hated those colors. He hated the colors that reminded him of the shrieks and grieving moans of his people back home. He hated the muddy stained blues, and the pinches of poisoned yellows that John spoke when his voice cracked with despair. He especially hated it when John cried, my god that was the worst. All traces of yellow vanished from John’s voice. Having it replaced with tarnished grays and colors of rusted blues, Alex would make it his mission to do whatever it took to bring back the wide range of yellows he knew that were buried within John’s being.
Sometimes it seemed almost impossible to pull John’s yellows out of him. But more often than not, Alex was successful in clearing John’s palate and helping him repaint it with the different shades of yellow that were almost as beautiful as him.
All in all, Alex loved his sunshine boy, John Laurens. He loved all the yellows that laced perfectly with his voice. He loved how bright his voice could be, he especially loved how blinding his laughter could be. He loved John Laurens; and he loved the color yellow.
Ten years ago I was a student on my own in NYC. The price gouging of insulin in the US was just beginning. I have been type1 diabetic since the age of twelve. When I think of the struggles I’ve gone through in the past twenty years just to stay alive, a few memories stand out like shards of glass: clear, pointed, and bloody. This is one of those shards…
I am twenty. My alarm wakes me at six to get ready for class. It wakes me at six to begin the strict and unforgiving regimen that keeps me alive. Before anything else I test my blood sugar – blearily, groggily, automatically. The meter is a crappy drug store brand. I miss my old meter but I can’t afford to use that one anymore – the test strips were $75 a bottle. $375 a month. $15 a bottle for this one. Slide the strip into the meter and prick my finger. This meter requires more blood than my old one, so the poke has to be deeper, and I squeeze until a gory crimson pearl forms on my fingertip. The dull lancet hurts: you’re supposed to change them out after each use, but I change it out more like once a week, because a box of lancets is $20, and who can afford that? This is the first of between 8-20 tests I am supposed to each day: when I wake up, before and after each meal and snack, before, during, and after exercise, before bed, any time I feel “off”, and maybe a middle of the night check because I’m afraid of dying in my sleep.
Dead In Bed Syndrome is the number one cause of death for young type1s.
Truth be told, I don’t test as much as I am supposed to anymore. I can’t afford that. Once, when I tried to refill the script for my strips a week too early, the pharmacist told me coldly, “You’re testing too much.” “I’m type one,” I replied, nonplussed, thinking he should recognize the obvious implications of that statement. “You test four times a day. Prescription for four times a day,” he said patronizingly through a thick accent. In a rare moment of assertiveness fed by desperation, I slammed both hands on the counter, “Do you even know the difference between type one and two?” I asked, “You’re not a doctor! I’m testing exactly as much as my doctor told me to.” That was when I realized it was the insurance company I must defer to in matters of health, not my doctor. During class in the morning I feel hazy. Prof gets a bit blurred around the edges. Can’t make out the diagram of a neuron projected on the screen.
My meter beeps quietly when I test, and the bro next to me grunts, “Do you have to do that now?” having assumed I was fiddling with a phone or PDA. I crumple and say nothing. Time to calculate a correction. My entire life is math. I calculate how much insulin I need to correct – to bring my blood glucose down to the normal range. I calculate how many grams of carbohydrate are in anything I eat, and how much insulin I’ll need to compensate for them. I subtract for the insulin that’s still in my system. I subtract for any exercise I’ll be doing. I add for lack of sleep. I add for emotions: for anger, for sadness, for fear. I add for hormones: menstrual, cortisol from the stress of school, of working two jobs, and ironically, from the stress of not being able to afford my insulin. Surreptitiously under my desk, I draw the insulin up into a syringe and jab it into my belly. I don’t swab with alcohol first, because I can’t afford alcohol swabs. The shot hurts despite the needle being a hair’s thin gauge and only a half-inch long. It hurts because it is dull from overuse. Insulin syringes are single use only, but I can’t afford that. I put the biohazard orange cap back on and save the syringe for next time as another bruise forms on my belly. My belly is a constellation of pinpricks and bruises. I got into the habit of skipping meals to save money. I’d contemplated going low-carb, not because it’s trendy or healthier or better for type1 diabetics (it’s not), but because low carb means less insulin – I could save money! But the diet itself is expensive, so that evening I start boiling water for plain oatmeal. Five bucks for the extra large carton; a meal a day for a month! I could eat like queen if I didn’t spend all my money on prescription copays. But I remind myself as I stir my soggy beige repast that I am lucky to even have insurance. I am one of the lucky ones, I think, as I roll my vial of insulin gently between my palms to warm it and mix it when it slips from my hands and falls to the floor. I am one of the lucky ones. It shatters on the rust colored tiles and the reek of the hormone that keeps me alive (imagine concentrated Eau de Band-Aid) surrounds me like the Worst Cologne In the World.
The puddle on the floor is a week’s wages. The puddle on the floor is worth half a month’s rent. The puddle on the floor is worth two months’ food. The puddle on the floor is my life.
I sink to the floor next to the puddle and sob. And I am one of the lucky ones.
Some people let themselves go into DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a near-death state) so they can be taken to the ER. There they will be chastised for not taking their insulin – the term doctors use is “non-compliant”, like we’re parolees failing to meet the terms of our release. Like we’re snorting sugar like blow. But at least with the contempt and the upbraiding comes a free vial or two. For some this is the only way they know how to get insulin; each incident of DKA doing just a little more damage to the tiny blood vessels that feed their kidneys, to their eyes, their nerves, to their hearts, to their lungs. If they don’t die this time, they’re gambling with their future. But I’m still a coward. It’ll take another few years before I get pushed far enough to boldly (stupidly) play those odds myself. This time…this time, after three hours of sobbing, I walk to the pharmacy. Swollen face and red eyes. The cacophony of traffic and sirens and catcalls blend together into aural soup. The buildings, traffic, people around me blurring together too, unreal and waxy like a swirl of melting crayons. I’m not truly seeing or hearing: I am mathing. What if they won’t refill my prescription early? How much food can I afford when the currency is units of insulin? How long will I last? Maybe a few days? Maybe a week? I don’t actually know exactly how long I’ll live without it, but I’ll start feeling the effects within hours: my vision will blur, my thirst will become unquenchable, nausea and hunger will battle for reign supreme over my tummy. I’ll lose weight rapidly; I have an athletic physique now, but that will disappear almost overnight. I’ll get weaker. I’ll be winded walking a few blocks or climbing a flight of stairs. My muscles will twitch. I’ll vomit. I’ll faint. I’ll hyperventilate as my lungs desperately try to expel the toxins building up in my blood. My fingers will wrinkle until my hands look like a striga’s. My heart will pound. Then something will give way. Maybe a heart attack first. Maybe suffocation. My organs will fail in one order or another. I will die. And it will hurt. Maybe I can last long enough to scrounge up the money – borrowing, working extra shifts, saving: hey, I think darkly, “If you can’t afford to eat, at least insulin will last longer!” Silver fucking lining. The florescence of the drugstore rescues me from my mind. I head straight to the pharmacy, and to a pharmacist I’ve never met before. Thank god there’s no line. She is a woman in her forties with wavy auburn hair. In her white coat, she is the first thing I see with clarity. She is pretty. She has freckles. I ask for a refill. I tell her I broke my bottle. “You’re not due for a refill for a month,” she says. “Please?” I say…I don’t have anything else to say. I don’t have anything else at all. She consults her computer. She makes phone calls.
I pace and try not to look at the fitness magazines, with their diet and exercise advice. I try not to think about how people micromanage their nutrients, count their calories, and run, run, run from the Reaper. I will never be healthy. I am what they fear. I am what they are running from. The pretty pharmacist tells me there’s nothing she can do. Insurance won’t fill it for four more weeks. I don’t cry because I have no tears left, but I don’t know what to do, so I collapse against the wall in desperation, my arms wrapped around me, trying to think and trying not to think. How can insulin cost so much? How can they refuse me when my life literally depends on it?
How can my life be worth so much and so little at the same time?
I don’t know how long I stand frozen (or am I shaking?), against the wall when I feel the hand on my shoulder. I look up at a halo of auburn hair, but I can’t meet the eyes that look at me. She slips a refrigerator-chilled box into my hand, inside, a vial of insulin. “Don’t tell anyone,” she says, and walks away.