This evening the reproductive freedom organization Our Justice, in collaboration with Body Prayers, an afro-centered body reclamation space, is hosting “Sovereign: A Body Reclamation Practice.” The event starts at 8pm at the Green Room in Minneapolis.
Our Justice’s Executive Director Shayla Walker says there aren’t enough spaces for Black-centered reproductive justice work.
“When I thought about abortion and the fight for reproductive rights, I thought about a lot of white folks. But that just wasn't that's not my scene. I wanted to create a space for people that look like me,” she said. “I have not experienced this in the Twin Cities where there was a party just celebrating reproductive justice by and for us.”
Our Justice bases its work on the premise that the woman’s right to decide is what’s most important, rather than which decision is “right.” Walker says her 13 years experience working in reproductive health exposed her to the systemic issues that lead to inadequate care for Black patients. She says with marginalized communities relying primarily on government healthcare support, such as Medicaid, they are often left in the hands of underpaid caregivers.
“I worked at a clinic and I did not have health care for the first three, four years working at a clinic. So it was my responsibility to show compassion and care and have Black people trust me to educate them on what it is like to get abortion services, but I couldn't even access the abortion service myself if I wanted to because I wasn't getting paid enough and I didn't have health care,” said Walker. “You can't give what you don't have.”
Walker says these systemic issues can result in not only physical harm, but in the belief that Black people don’t deserve adequate care. She says she believes holding space for celebration will build community trust through joy.
Event co-host Body Prayers, which is centered in the intersection of African ancestry and holistic healing, was founded by artist DejaJoelle. DejaJoelle uses their personal experience of healing through movement and meditation to fuel the organization’s work. They say this collaboration honors their organization’s deep roots in bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom. DejaJoelle’s work is based on their own experience with abortion.
“In 2009, I had to decide if I wanted to have a child which was a product of rape,” said DejaJoelle. “I was being trafficked at the time. And I was like, okay, well, I need to get rid of this child. Like it hurt for me to say, but I immediately said no. The staff spent the next 40 minutes trying to convince me that I should.”
DejaJoelle says the experience was traumatic on many levels, and there were several opportunities for better care that never happened.
“There was no ‘Where did the rape happen? We need to bring the police in here’ or ‘We need to find you an intervention’ or anything like that. And even through the abortion process, the roughness of the doctors and the nurses, the way that they talked to me, even the people protesting outside, literally touching me–pulling me to the side to say, no, you shouldn't do this.”
DejaJoelle says the vision for reproductive justice needs to be expanded to be more inclusive and more holistic.
“When we talk about reproductive justice, we're not just talking about can a person get an abortion or not. We're talking about what care happens – what preventative care, what care happens during, what care happens after, and what care is happening in general, when there's not even a child involved,” they said. “I'm celebrating the tenacity of my body, I'm celebrating me saying no in that moment and taking a different pathway.”
“Sovereign: A Body Reclamation Practice” features a purely feminine lineup, showcasing the work of DJ McChellen and DJ Sophia Eris, as well as local artists Xina and EssJay the AfroCentric Ratchet. The event is hosted by community curator Lenora Elaine.