The Fights Are Here: Reckoning with Roe is Reckoning with All

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.

Communications for Good and COVID-19

To communicate is to be human — to share conversation over a pot of coffee with a coworker, embrace a loved one in a hug, share a meal with a group of friends. As I keep the news on in the background while I’m quarantined like so many in my home, the commercial breaks seem like a surreal trip into another lifetime — where people are dancing together at parties, picking kids up at school, listening to a presentation in an office. Now, more than ever, we are seeing how effective communications practices can keep us connected, even when we are physically apart.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons I have learned about effective communications through a racial equity lens at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation remain even more relevant today. How we respond to this pandemic as funders is critical — not only in how we choose to use our resources, but in the ways we choose to communicate.

This is About All of Us, Not Just Some of Us
Americans tend to default to an individualism cultural model — meaning that we think that what happens to us is the result of our individual actions, not larger systems and historical systems of oppression. We see this playing out through the hoarding of food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and baby formula, or politicians putting big business in front of the needs of those suffering the most in this crisis. When President Trump incites vitriol like using language such as the “China Virus” he is buying into racism, xenophobia, and Sinophobia that divide us. He is also reinforcing this idea of individuals from a community of color being the root of this virus, instead of tapping into the idea that our own health and wellbeing depends upon the health of others.

The Message Matters, But So Does The Messenger
There are a multitude of reasons why a group of community organizers might hear a message differently if it were to come from a young person of color versus me, a white woman working at a philanthropic organization. These reasons may include lived experiences, proximity to challenges at hand, relationships and credibility in communities, and many more. The same principle remains for communicating in the wake of this pandemic. Now is not the time for funders to insert their agendas into every news story, or distribute press releases as normal. It’s time to lend our support to the messengers and our grantees — credible sources on what we can do as a society to diminish the effects of this virus. At Nellie Mae, we have been organizing resource and support opportunities for communities throughout the region, and also working internally to shift our practices to provide more support to response efforts. For those interested in sharing the facts, the CDC, NIH and local departments of health are good places to start.

Listening More, Saying Less
Effective communication is not a one-way street. We all know that this crisis will have profound impacts on the sustainability and viability of many schools, districts and nonprofit organizations in our region. As funders, we have to figure out how we can support our grantee partners during this time by listening more, asking them how we can be of support, and following their guidance. Additionally, we need to take it upon ourselves to be proactive, bold and decisive in our communications around flexibility surrounding grant requirements, lightening the burdens that so many of our grantee partners are feeling at this time. We’ve already seen powerful examples of this from funders like the Barr Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.

Funders, this is our chance to use the many resources we have at hand — our money, our networks, and our communications — to support the communities we seek to support. After all, we’re all in this together.