Black Women for Wellness: A Case for Supporting Black-led Reproductive Justice

originally published on the SoCal Grantmakers site

Within a driver’s line of vision, popping up near bus stops and train stations – you can’t miss the big new billboards. In a crisp black and white, the signs proclaims: Abortion is and will remain legal in California and overlaid in a puffy, golden font: We got you!

The public awareness campaign and the organizing behind them are a direct reflection of strength, wisdom, and brilliance embodied in the leadership and lived experience of Black women. Launched by Black Women for Wellness and the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, these billboards up and down California set the record straight and offer much needed words of encouragement. As in so many other circumstances, Black women and gender expansive organizers shine their light, offer up their vision, and in doing so show us all a way forward. In particular, they offer a path forward for philanthropy in this moment. 

Getting Philanthropy to We Got You

It’s long past time for philanthropy to take a “we got you” stance when it comes to Black women’s leadership on reproductive justice. 

To set the context, a pathetic 1.9% of all philanthropic dollars go to women and girls, only a fraction of that to reproductive justice and a fraction of fraction of that goes to Black-led organizations. And yet, Black-led organizations are at the forefront of California’s push to become a reproductive freedom state. Despite chronic underfunding, organizations like the LA-based Black Women for Wellness are making a way out of no way. Their leadership and vision is no small part of how and why it’s possible for the proclamations of that billboard to ring true. 

Over five years ago, Black Women for Wellness co-sponsored a groundbreaking bill that mandated companies to let us know what’s in the products we put on our bodies every day. Two years ago, they were behind a bill that mandated implicit bias training for healthcare providers as a way to address disparities in Black maternal health. And just last year, they pushed the Momnibus bill to the finish line which re-imagines maternal health for birthing people and new parents. 

Black Women for Wellness has a multigenerational lineage of organizing that has shaped California’s policy landscape on issues ranging from making doulas available to birthing folks to rolling back eugenics-based Welfare policies. Black women are at the forefront of the intersectional reproductive justice movement and at the helm of thought leadership moving our state forward on issues that matter to everyone. 

Listening to and taking the lead from Black women, femmes, girls, and gender-expansive folks is vital to how California fortifies itself as a bastion of reproductive justice organizing. But that trailblazing hasn’t translated into dollars in the field. Even without the material resources, Black women create solutions to better their environment and communities, practice leadership, and foster a sense of safety and belonging.

While there is more cultural recognition that Black women have always been central to the struggle for freedom and equality, it’s time to turn that recognition into real dollars.  

Beyond Abortion: An Intersectional Approach 

As writer, radical feminist, and visionary, Audre Lorde reminds us: “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.That political approach is baked into the work of Black Women for Wellness and California’s reproductive justice movement writ large. 

Part of their organizing power is that they are not myopically focused on abortion, which again is something about which the philanthropic field can take note. Black Women for Wellness is looking at the big picture and connecting the dots. They are making it clear to folks that an attack on abortion access is inextricably linked to questions of who gets to have say in who you love or how you express yourself your gender and how that’s linked to what kind of care you get at when you show up at the hospital, what happens when you’re stopped for a traffic violation, or when you get ready to cast your ballot. 

Building the Field of (c)4 Funders

Policy advocacy is a highly impactful way to advance justice and equity and philanthropy can play an essential role in that process. It’s high time for that essential role to grow and allow the resources to flow. 

Like many power-building organizations, Black Women for Wellness has a 501(c)4 arm, the first in the country focusing on Black women’s Reproductive Justice. Philanthropic c4 grantmaking is insufficient — often moving too late and only in election years. To sustain impactful organizing work around abortion access, funding is crucial for many non-partisan elements of 501(c)4 organizations — including hiring more staff, participating in learning opportunities with peers, combating voting suppression, advancing key legislation and furthering their reach in communities. Foundation grants to 501(c)4 groups have the potential to free up organizations’ capacity to use their unrestricted funds for more advocacy work (like critical work around this November’s Proposition 1). It isn’t about political parties — it’s about making the political process more accessible.

Women’s Foundation California’s Funders Policy Institute (FPI) is one way to nurture that growth. An immersive learning program, FPI is focused on supporting donors and philanthropists to become more strategic in their policy advocacy grantmaking. The weeklong training takes an intersectional feminist approach to policy advocacy and power-building for racial, economic, and gender justice in California. For those interested in growing their policy chops and connecting with aligned funders, registration is now open to join this year’s FPI class.

Many Pathways to Liberation

A Black-led reproductive justice organization, Black Women for Wellness are working swiftly and diligently to protect the political, economic, and basic rights of Black women and girls. Which also means there are so many ways to support them and organizations like them regardless of whether or not you are a reproductive justice funder. 

There are so many entries into this work. Through the rich and complex lives of Black women’s lives, the non-profit has trained Black women and girls in California to influence public policy, organize, and build power. Building on a COVID-19 recovery? We got you! Providing real deal comprehensive sex eduation? We got you! Making sure your shampoo doesn’t give you cancer? We got you! Bringing in voter education and civic engagement? We got you!

Our Work for Wellness

Black Women for Wellness is doing what needs to be done and doing it well. They have taken an approach that blends culture shift with liberatory policy change and direct electoral work. They elevate the key challenges that Black women face and build real political and community power. Imagine what might be possible if we funded them at the scale their work deserves.  

Now, we — the philanthropic field of California — have work to do. It’s time for philanthropy to take a “we got you” stance when it comes to moving money and prioritize a trust-based approach. We have a role in strengthening California’s infrastructure as a reproductive freedom state for all, ensuring affordable access to all reproductive health care options. The power and potential of organizations like Black Women for Wellness deserve nothing less than multi-year, unrestricted funding and a lot of it to keep this work moving forward now and for generations to come. And that funding needs to be easy to access with simplified grant applications and reporting processes. Do you really have someone’s back if you make them fill out endless short paragraph essays in an outdated grant portal? 

There is too much at stake and too much evidence that shows clearly what’s possible when organizations led by Black women and gender expansive folks get the funding and trust they deserve. Black women and gender expansive folks deliver. It’s time for philanthropy to do the same. 

So, here’s three ways you can take action today to support organizations, networks, and infrastructure building bodily autonomy in California and beyond. 

  1. Give Now  Donate to Women’s Foundation California or directly to any (or all!) of the phenomenal BIPOC-led reproductive justice organizations.
  2. Give for the Long Haul The philanthropic reality is most BIPOC-led organizations like those that are part of our grant partner community are not funded over the long haul. Join us in supporting movement leaders with multi-year general operating support.
  3. Join the Funders Policy Institute If you are a grantmaker, funder, or philanthropic advisor looking to learn more about how to fund the organizations and policy advocacy who are paving the pathway to liberation, come to the Funders Policy Institute, November 14-18.

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