“Reproductive justice” is a buzzword many feminists use as a substitute for “reproductive health” or “rights”—without noticing their part in co-opting a term defined by and rooted in Black and indigenous feminist activism.
Born in 1994 and based on the UN’s human rights framework, reproductive justice was started by a group of Black women ahead of their attending the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. It combines the idea of reproductive rights with social justice and is rooted in the belief that every individual has the right to plan their own family safely and on their own terms.
SisterSong, a pathbreaking, multi-ethnic, Southern-based, national membership organization, was founded in 1997 (just three years later!) with the mission of carrying on those tenets of reproductive justice.
A key aspect of the reproductive justice (RJ) movement is education and discussion—and in an effort to combine the two while bringing those messages to a large, young audience, “Black Feminist Rants” (BFR), a podcast centering conversations on RJ and activism, has created a space for young, Black feminists.
BFR is created and hosted by former SisterSong intern and current digital organizer LaKia Williams. Through BFR, Williams engages listeners in discussions around a myriad of RJ topics with many different guest speakers who share their RJ story, path to advocacy, and expertise on a specific issue related to RJ.
Guest speakers have included: Loretta Ross, RJ founder; Monica Simpson, SisterSong executive director; Christian Adams, SisterSong lead trainer; and Kwajelyn Jackson, Feminist Women’s Health Center’s executive director. Future guests will discuss topics like abortion advocacy, doula work and abolition.
Ms. reporter Corinne Ahrens was able to chat with Williams about the importance of youth activism, understanding RJ framework while acknowledging the contributions of Black feminists and creating a space to breakdown different aspects of Black feminism.
Corinne Ahrens: What made you want to create Black Feminist Rants? How did you do it?
LaKia Williams: I talked about this in Episode One of BFR but the concept came to me one day randomly while I was on a walk at Audubon Park in New Orleans. It was after life was kind of in a weird transition period after universities had closed and most students left campus for their hometowns. This was right after the murder of George Floyd and there was a lot of national attention on police brutality, and people were really invested in learning more about social justice and racial equity.
With this came a lot of social media activism with people posting in support of Black Lives Matter and making lists of demands. However, a lot of it, specifically from people I knew or were friends of friends, seemed extremely disingenuous like this “activism” was the new trend, one that came with social capital as well.
Because of that, I found myself going on rants on my Instagram story almost everyday with multiple posts a day. These ranting sessions were very cathartic and many people would comment and agree with me or repost them to their stories so it was very validating but I didn’t get much out of it other than that, I also felt like I was speaking into the void. The people who needed to see the posts the most viewed them and assumed I wasn’t talking about them because they couldn’t see the fault in their actions, so I quickly learned that the rants weren’t worth my time or peace of mind.
So back to the jog while I was in Audubon—I was thinking of all these things and I just thought, “Hm, I should make a podcast” but I quickly forgot about it because I told myself that I couldn’t do it and no one would listen to it, and just a host of other negative things. And I didn’t think about the podcast again until I started my summer internship with SisterSong. They asked me what I wanted my personal project to be and I made a list of ideas for them and the last idea was a podcast and I got really great feedback from my supervisors which gave me the confidence to actually try it out.
CA: Could you explain reproductive justice and its place in feminism?
LW: So the beautiful thing about reproductive justice is that our founding mothers are still with us, so for people looking to learn more about RJ, I would definitely encourage you to read their works and listen to their talks and podcast episodes because I think there is something very powerful about learning directly from the source.
But very briefly, reproductive justice is a framework and movement that states everyone has the human right to bodily autonomy, the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments free from violence.
RJ’s place in feminism, which I learned from Loretta Ross—one of the founding mothers of RJ, on episode two of BFR—was that Black feminists have added three of the most important contributions to feminism: intersectionality from Kimberle Crenshaw; identity politics from the Combahee River Collective and reproductive justice.
So I think feminism cannot exist without reproductive justice—and the mainstream feminist movement is indebted to Black feminists and the Black feminist movement. This really highlights how you cannot have a feminist movement or framework that doesn’t include and center those on the margin.
CA: How has the RJ framework provided by SisterSong influenced your content?
LW: From the beginning, I knew the podcast would be centered around reproductive justice because of how much experience I have in it. I was the president of Students United for Reproductive Justice at the time of BFR’s creation; I was a fellow in the Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps; I planned a Reproductive Justice student conference, and began a program on campus that provided free emergency contraception to students—so I knew I had a wealth of experience on the topic and it’s what I really care about.
But my connections at SisterSong definitely took BFR to places I couldn’t have even imagined. I have had the best guest speakers including: Loretta Ross, a founder of Reproductive Justice and former executive director of SisterSong; Monica Simpson, SisterSong executive director, Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center; Christian Adams, the lead trainer for SisterSong; and many youth activists.
But one thing that SisterSong and RJ did for me that influenced the podcast that I didn’t foresee was the amount of support and community I felt. The support really allowed me to open up on BFR and be more vulnerable with the content that I share.
On episode five, I talk about imposter syndrome and I mention my own insecurities—which is something I have never really felt safe enough in space to do. I have this feeling of constantly needing to present myself as well put together, and perfect, and happy, and confident, and if I show anything that contradicts that somehow my value will decrease. So I think SisterSong modeling vulnerability and openness really helped me to bring that to BFR.
CA: Which episodes were your favorite to record? And which are you most looking forward to recording?
LW: It’s so hard to pick a favorite episode! But some of my favorite episodes are one and two.
Episode one was the introduction which was fun because I was really excited and just talking about everything, I felt very free.
Episode two was another favorite because I got to talk to Loretta Ross, one of the founding mothers of RJ. I did so much research on her and listened to podcasts and interviews and read her writing but I still learned so much in that one hour I had with her.
I also enjoyed my episode with Christian Adams where we discussed our planning of the RJ Summer Institute. Christian was heavily involved in me getting my position as digital organizer with SisterSong after my internship ended. And I also just enjoy talking to her in general as a woman of faith, and also because she is a very open and energetic person—so that episode just felt like a normal conversation.
Episode five where I talked about imposter syndrome was the hardest episode to record—editing it was terrible. I felt very self-conscious and exposed and I almost didn’t release it; I kept procrastinating it. But it got great feedback: Some people said it was their favorite episode, so that made it all worth it.
But I also have an upcoming episode with my good friend Sarah Jones that was so much fun to record. I wasn’t having the best day before the interview, but by the end I was smiling and in a much better mood, and I think that speaks to how we can’t be in these movements without community. Sarah has been my friend and apart of my development into an “activist” and has seen me transition and grow and mature so it was so nice to have her on an episode and talk about her work as well and how she came into her advocacy and even learn more about her, so I am very excited for that episode to air.
I am looking forward to recording to more personal episodes because they have been sort of therapeutic and it is so unlike me to share my private thoughts even with close friends so definitely not publicly and I am enjoying breaking free from my old habits and insecurities.
CA: What do you hope listeners take away from each episode of BFR?
LW: I hope that listeners see parts of themselves in what I share. A lot of what has been so rewarding for BFR—which I constantly say in episodes—is feeling this sense of validation through hearing guest speakers stories; so I hope listeners see their struggles and insecurities reflected in me and that that makes the feeling less isolating.
I also hope they learn more about reproductive justice and Black feminism—but you can learn that anywhere—so the unique aspect that I hope BFR can be for others is a realistic sense of youth activism and the struggles we all face and learning to not feel the need to hide any hardships or insecurities for the sake of seeming put together, which has been a hard and continuous process for myself as well.
CA: Do you have any words of inspiration for other young, Black feminists looking to claim space and have their voices heard?
LW: This is a question I always ask guest speakers at the end of the interview and I’ve never really thought about what I could add.
First, just do whatever you want. Whatever you want to do, I guarantee there is a way to get it done—watch some YouTube videos, reach out to people, and make a game plan. I am so grateful that I just did the podcast I have learned so much about myself and have created something that I am really proud of, but it wouldn’t exist if I listened to my first thoughts of self-doubt.
My biggest pieces of advice are to let go of the fear of failure and the expectation of perfection. I have learned so much about myself through BFR, I have made so many connections and pushed myself out of my comfort zone in more ways than one and that wouldn’t be possible if I let my first thoughts of self-doubt deter me from creating this platform. But also, this is something I stress on every episode: Build your community, the people around you are going to build you up when you don’t see it in yourself yet, and they will hold you accountable. I am starting to learn that none of this work, or accolades, or accomplishments means anything if I don’t have a community of people who love and support me through it and regardless of it. Because we are doing this work to liberate all people and that includes ourselves and the people we love and care about.
To the other point, perfection is a tenet of white supremacy, and you simply need to let it go. There are so many episodes of BFR that are less than perfect, that I cringe at when I listen to, that listeners probably cringe at too! But I know the content is good and I am okay if some of the acoustics are bad or if I sound nervous. Don’t wait until your product of project is perfect to release it—I learned this from Kwajelyn Jackson on episode eight of BFR—that we should “not strive for perfection, to really truly embody this idea that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
Each episode of BFR serves as a safe space for discussions and rants about the specific issues around being Black women and femmes in the social justice landscape. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and iHeartRadio; new episodes air every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. CST.
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