African American leaders build womens march

Prominent African American leaders representing a broad coalition of organizations are urging members of Black communities across the country to join the March for Women’s Lives April 25 in Washington, D.C. Their message: the current attack on women’s health and reproductive rights represents an attack on women’s civil rights.

For the first time in its 95-year history, the NAACP Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the march. In a related development, march organizers announced April 12 the formation of an “All-Star Celebrity Coalition,” including African American actors Whoopi Goldberg, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Ossie Davis, as well as many other actors, comedians and musicians in support of the march.

More than 1,200 organizations – including some of the nation’s leading women’s, civil rights, health and religious organizations – are mobilizing for the April 25 march, which is shaping up to be one of the largest demonstrations for women’s rights ever.

“For the first time, the concerns of women of color and low-income women will be fully integrated into a major reproductive rights demonstration,” New Voices for Reproductive Justice declared on the march web site. It is through New Voices that the March for Women’s Lives is mobilizing thousands of women and men of color and dozens of organizations representing a diversity of issues.

“Reproductive justice recognizes that any discussion of reproductive rights must include the right of women to have children – a human right that is incessantly threatened by hostile welfare reform policies, immigration policies, poverty, violence and racism – as well as economic issues that affect access to a wide range of reproductive health services,” New Voices said.

The groups will demand that all women – regardless of income, race and ethnicity – be able to exercise their reproductive rights through equal access to safe abortions, birth control (including emergency contraception), reproductive and prenatal health care, safe delivery and accurate sex education.

“It is critical that African American women of all ages unite to send a wake-up call to our community. The fact is, our reproductive rights and health are under attack,” said National Council of Negro Women Chair Dorothy Height, who recently received the Congressional Medal of Honor. “Government’s role should be to protect – not deny – our rights.”

Lorraine Cole, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) and a key organizer of the march, said, “We are standing together to protect existing reproductive rights and to expand the vision for reproductive justice for all women, especially those who bear the greatest burdens from racial disparities and public policies that punish and criminalize reproductive choices.”

The BWHI is mobilizing women around the issue of racist inequities in health care. “Are you saddened by the disproportionately high number of young, African American women dying from AIDS, breast cancer and even pregnancy-related causes when compared with other women?” it asks on its web site.

“Do you want to do something about the fact that Black women do not have the same access to health services and prevention information as other women? Are you sick and tired of having public officials and judges interfering in matters as personal and private as when and whether to have a child?” If so, be in Washington on April 25, BWHI urges. It is also offering a web-based “virtual” participation for those who can’t attend the march.

The NAACP resolution noted that 80 years ago, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the association’s founders, said every woman must have the right of procreation “at her own discretion.”

It’s important that all Americans stand up for their rights and the rights of all women worldwide,” said Lisa Gay Hamilton, an actress in ABC’s “The Practice” and writer and director of the HBO documentary “Beah: A Black Woman Speaks.”

“If we cannot control our bodies,” she said, “we do not have equal protection under the law.”

There will be a Women of Color contingent organized under the banner “Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.” This delegation also includes men. If you would like to march with them, e-mail Loretta Ross at Loretta@nchre.org. To contact BWHI, call or e-mail march coordinator Brenda Joyner at (202) 548-4000, ext. 23 or bjoyner@nbwhp.org.

The author can be reached at crummel@pww.org.