Healthcare is a human right.
No one should be denied the opportunity to see a doctor because of how much money is in their pocket or where they live.
Our loved ones shouldn’t die from easily curable diseases simply because they can’t afford medicine.
Black lives matter.
Why are these controversial statements? Why are we living under an administration that thinks it is politically expedient to rip away our access to basic healthcare?
Yes, denying people access to healthcare is the perfect way to accomplish your goals if your goals include severely restricting the flow of health resources to marginalized communities and pouring gasoline on the flames of white supremacy; making people of color too sick to earn a living, too sick to learn in school and too sick to raise families. But most of all, keep us too sick to challenge illegitimate authority. That’s exactly what we’re up against.
Unfortunately, this tactic isn’t new. During slavery, slave owners frequently offered only the bare minimum of healthcare and food to their enslaved people, keeping them barely healthy enough to work. And when enslaved Black women like Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey were forcibly coerced into medical experiments, Black bodies were sacrificed in the name of white women’s health and because white men, feeding their own “scientific” curiosity, also refused to acknowledge that these women felt pain just like anyone else. The bodily violence these Black women experienced was never because anyone actually cared for the health and well being of Black women.
“It should never be a crime to seek healthcare.”
In times of terror, like these, one thing we never lost from our ancestors is the necessity to dream. We know how to hold onto the belief that the arc of justice will eventually find its way home – we have to. In all honesty, as a reproductive justice activist, it’s the only way I know how to move forward, despite incredible odds and near constant political, physical, and personal attacks. Even under a friendly presidential administration, access to abortion care and the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare services have been decimated. Several women, particularly women of color, have been thrown in jail and charged with felonies because they needed abortions and couldn’t afford them, and those who were already in jail have been denied access. Our lack of healthcare access and protections is leading to incarceration.
It should never be a crime to seek healthcare.
Like the Movement for Black Lives, the movement for reproductive justice was founded by women of color, and women who believe that everyone, particularly communities of color, deserve high quality, culturally competent and compassionate healthcare, that the freedom to decide when to become a parent and how to grow their families is a basic right and that everyone has the right and ought to have the resources to raise healthy children free from violence, economic coercion and environmental harm.
When it comes to healthcare, abortion, transgender, indigenous and disability rights are the canaries in the coal mine. If you want to see the future of healthcare under this illegitimate administration, all you have to do is see what has happened since 2010 at the state level and who chose to look the other way as our rights were trampled. Access to abortion is barely a right in half of our states: Black people with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be murdered by, as Marvin Gaye said, “trigger happy police,” the government refuses to acknowledge the sovereignty of indigenous people’s land and trans women of color are routinely murdered while our nation ignores their plight. I refuse to accept this. We have the ability to create something else, and are at a turning point where we must or we will perish.
We have to fantasize about the potential for a future of Black health and Black freedom.
I choose to imagine a taxpayer-funded health center, founded on the needs of Black women, transgender and nonbinary people and based on the brilliance I’ve already seen across this nation.
As a taxpayer, I want the taxes I pay to reflect my and our nation’s values, and I believe we can find better ways to spend the Department of Defense’s nearly $600 billion budget currently allocated to raze Black and Brown communities around the world. Keeping people healthy and safe feels like the perfect way to do it. With the appropriation of this new budget, we’ll be able to raise the Medicaid reimbursement rate, which is important to ensure more people have access to care. However, my dream health center will take all patients, no matter their ability to pay, immigration status or health condition.
My imagined center will be named after Dr. Joycelyn Elders and will welcome all of you.
“We have to fantasize about the potential for a future of Black health and Black freedom.”
Dr. Joycelyn Elders was a fierce pediatrician and the first Black Surgeon General of the United States. During her tenure, Dr. Elders was outspoken on holistic approaches to healthcare, advocated for access to comprehensive sexual health education, called out racist health textbooks, advocated for abortion access and contraception in schools and famously supported teaching masturbation; a bold and unapologetic Black namesake for a brazen and dynamic dream health center.
The Elders Center will be located conveniently near public transportation. Inspired by the practical support program at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in California, the Elders Center will also offer funding and complimentary rides on the Diane Nash rides program for those who need assistance arriving at their appointments When patients enter the Elders Center, they’ll be welcomed into an open space decorated by brightly colored furniture and painted walls, much like the Queens, New York, Planned Parenthood. Modeled after the Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinics, patient rooms will be named after Black feminist leaders like Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King and Ida B. Wells and inscribed with inspirational quotes by women such as Audre Lorde, Patti LaBelle and Sojourner Truth.
The Melissa Harris Perry wing of the center will offer abortion, birthing and delivery, miscarriage management, adoption, egg freezing, surrogacy and infertility services all on the same floor. There will be no need to stigmatize or arbitrarily separate people. Midwives and doulas will be on hand for all pregnant people who want them. Elders Center staff will thoughtfully advise patients with uterine fibroids and offer holistic approaches to treatment, while maintaining fertility as patients desire. Like the Birthing Center of Buffalo / Buffalo WomenServices, the providers will be there for patients no matter what decision they make about their pregnancies. Lactation specialists on the Ella Baker floor will ensure everyone who would like to chestfeed their child has the education and tools to do so, including trans and nonbinary people.
Because it’s important that we treat whole people and not just their body parts, the Carlett A. Brown wing will offer reproductive healthcare services for people of all genders – everything from contraception and Pap smears to hormones and fertility preservation – similar to the Allentown Women’s Center in Pennsylvania. And because of the deep racial disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment availability, particularly breast cancer, the Pauli Murray cancer ward will offer state-of-the-art screening and treatment. Inspired by SisterLove in Atlanta, the Alvin Ailey program will run a community bus that offers HIV testing, medication delivery and weekly support peer-led groups.
The Elders Center will also have a resource center for all pregnancy options, including a diaper bank, condoms, an abortion fund and counselors, like the All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington, Indiana. The Claudette Colvin program will engage young parents in policy efforts, and offer baby showers, childcare, postpartum support groups and pregnancy photoshoots to break stigma like the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco. The Josephine Baker program will run support groups and activities for adoptive families, and the Marsha P. Johnson program will run them for transgender folks and their loved ones.
The Elders Center will run a number of counseling and resource programs, as well, to address historic issues and issues currently impacting Black communities. Counselors will be on hand in the Fannie Lou Hamer room to sit with patients who have been forcibly sterilized, and in the Rosa Parks room for survivors of sexual assault who need time to process their experience. Compassion and listening are key to healing. The Maya Angelou program will offer support and defense for sex workers when harmed by clients and law enforcement, and will ensure they are able to continue to work safely in healthy environments. SisterReach’s faith-based civic engagement programing in Memphis will serve as the structure for the Anna Julia Cooper advocacy program designed to increase voter enrollment, local political education and support for community members to run for office. We need people to be engaged now more than ever.
If we are going to withstand the destructive policies of this incoming administration, we’ll have to be even more creative. Our imaginations and grit will see us through a dark era, just like our ancestors showed they could do in the past and our friends are doing across the nation right now.
As we’re living in this nightmare of an administration, this is the future I’ll be working towards. This is my dream – my plan for resistance.
This post is part of the Black Futures Month blog series brought to you by The Huffington Post and the Black Lives Matter Network. Each day in February, look for a new post exploring cultural and political issues affecting the Black community and examining the impact it will have going forward. For more Black History Month content, check out Black Voices’ ‘We, Too, Are America’ coverage.