Written by Dr. Gislaine N. Ngounou, Interim President and CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Funders, the fights are here, and people have been fighting all along.
“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” In her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s words echo in our heads and hearts as we witness the fight for reproductive rights unfold before us. We must not be silent about the ongoing pain and violence inflicted by the unraveling of social progress that renders far too many of us vulnerable and threatens our very lives.
The fights are indeed here as we witness the looming Supreme Court decision of overturning Roe v. Wade. The decision would ensure that 70% of the country would lose a constitutional right to make choices about our own bodies. Many people in power are upholding and reinforcing white supremacy systems that we have long been fighting against. The fight isn’t just about Roe v. Wade but every piece of our democracy.
When they come for reproductive rights, they come for marriage equality.
When they come for marriage equality, they come for LGBTQIA+ protections.
When they come for LGBTQIA+ protections, they come for interracial marriage.
When they come for interracial marriage, they come for voting rights.
When they come for voting rights, they come for immigration rights.
When they come for immigration rights, they come for the right to quality and equitable public education.
They are intentionally coming for us. They are coming for all of us that make up a multiracial, diverse, and pluralist democracy. This moment is an organized and strategic part of a long-range game to ensure the permanent death of whatever semblance of democracy we’re holding on to.
The fights are indeed here. And, in the words of Lilla Watson and the Aboriginal activist group Queensland, “if you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
This moment is existential to our democracy. We cannot neatly separate our efforts towards educational justice from the fights for other civil and human rights.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, this decision will impact everyone. As a Black woman, I can’t help but be acutely aware of who will pay the steepest costs of this decision. Pregnant and parenting people who exist at the intersection of marginalized identities and who already experience far too many compounded oppressions and violence; women and girls of color, native women, folks in under-resourced communities will pay the most. In the spirit of Ubuntu, my fight is your fight. The political is indeed personal. We deserve the right to make choices that are best for our own bodies and lives.
In November of 2021, I shared a message that still rings true today, “…as funders committed to racial justice, we must think about our responsibilities beyond our narrow or specific organizational missions. We must honestly interrogate our personal and institutional connection to human life and suffering. For those of us in positions of greater privilege, we must show up in the fight for democracy with all of the tools and resources at our disposition because we simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.”
Back then, I implored us to commit to joining the fight to stop holding white tears in higher regard than Black life.
Frankly, this moment feels like another page of the same chapter.
We must use our voices and platforms boldly — through deploying resources, strategizing, mobilizing, and organizing. We must join efforts that are already happening and follow the lead of those most proximate to the issues.
At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we will continue to take this approach, while also targeting specific resources on advocacy, organizing, and direct-service efforts. We will also continue to stand for teaching the truth of our history so that our young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to engage, make decisions, and thrive.
And while doing this, let’s collectively reach out and build community, feeling all that we need to because we’re human. Let’s channel that righteous outrage into fuel so that we are protected and supported in making decisions about our own bodies, lives, and health so our multiracial, diverse, and pluralist democracy doesn’t die.
The fights are here. We are needed. You are needed.