Taking Back Control: An Interview with Reproductive Justice Activist Brittany Brathwaite
by Eunice Park and Charlotte Kramon
Brittany Brathwaite remembers a key moment that changed her life forever. It was her junior year of high school. She was walking along the route she always took to get home after school, when all of a sudden, she noticed a van out of the ordinary parked along the road. The van advertised itself as a mobile testing unit, and when she entered it curiously she was stunned. Ms. Brathwaite entered the van having little to no knowledge of sexual education, and exited it armed with vital information and a free HIV test.
It was this moment that Ms. Brathwaite was inspired to become involved in reproductive justice. Reproductive justice is, as Ms. Brathwaite describes, “ the intersection between reproductive rights and social justice”, or more personally, activism that “removes barriers and creates opportunities for people to live their best lives.” When she was a junior in high school, she was angry at how she was “robbed of vital (sexual education) information.” She remembers this feeling of anger persisting throughout her early education, especially as she had gone to catholic primary schools where the topic of sex was taboo.
Thus, when Ms. Brathwaite entered college, she seized all opportunities she could to manifest her interest in reproductive justice. She became heavily involved in Advocates for Youth and the Women of Color Leadership Council, both intersectional organizations that worked to destigmatize sex and promote peer to peer sexual education engagement. Before college, Ms. Brathwaite believed she “didn’t have control over (her) body, (she) didn’t have control over (her) life.” But after college, armed with new knowledge of reproductive justice and a supportive community, she began to take control over her body, and ultimately, her life again.
As she became empowered to control her own body, she quickly realized that in the context of reproductive justice, there were so many communities that did not have the same privilege and were being ignored. “Reproductive justice focuses on people at the margin to reach all the people who are censored.” Although Ms. Brathwaite was supportive of the fundamental ideas of many feminist media broadcasters, she felt like women of color, who are disproportionately affected and consequently ignored, were not fairly represented in social issues. In fact, in some instances, the oppression of women of color is almost celebrated, as in the case of the larger than life statue of J Marion Sims displayed in New York City. J Marion Sims was undoubtedly an important researcher in gynecology. However, all his research conclusions were reached through operating on a young, fully conscious, black teenage girl. “ He was just cutting into her uterus and vagina”, she states. Currently, Ms. Brathwaite is working with the Black Youth Project and other city organizations to fight for the removal of the statue
Such misrepresentation and underrepresentation is what reproductive justice aims to put a spotlight on. Although there is a lot of media attention dedicated to the topic of abortion, Ms. Brathwaite states that there needs to be more attention to broader topics, as “ the question is who has access to abortion” if we’re “including trans and gender nonconforming folks” in the dialogue. A reproductive justice organization she recommends donating to is Sister Song, an intersectional, inclusive organization promoting wellness.
Although Ms. Brathwaite hopes for there to be more support for reproductive justice, she recognizes the reality of the political divide standing as an obstacle for women’s rights today. She recounts some of her most frustrating moments in activism, as she states that “(she) was at a point where (she) was ready to walk away because people were saying things to my face that threatened my life.” Some of her most difficult moments have been attempting to reason with others who completely disregard her identity and personal story, yet she has found an incredible community of support with other women who identify with her. Her strategy to work across the aisle is to “get people in the middle who don’t know or don’t have enough education” to support her beliefs. She has learned to enjoy success in the small victories, whether that meant convincing one more person of her beliefs or encouraging a previously apathetic friend to advocate for reproductive justice in their own home community. She is continually inspired by her ancestors, as what keeps her going every single day is the fact that previous activists “believed in (their work) enough so that I’m alive”. She will never live long enough to see the end of racism, and the effects of her activism are far from instant. However, her advocacy is worth it, as it paves a better future for generations down the line.
As a message to youth everywhere, Ms. Brathwaite states that “young folks are leaders now.” She believes that, especially for girls, somewhere down in the line in high school, “something happens that makes you feel insignificant.” However, the best piece of advice Ms. Brathwaite can give is to “believe in infinite possibilities.” She encourages everyone to constantly fight for reproductive justice or other issues they are passionate about, as “the largest form of oppression is the inability to imagine something different.”