Melody Nelson is the 2007 recipient of the Choice USA Commitment to Leadership Award.
For the past year, I have been attempting to find new ways to start and expand upon conversations around reproductive health and justice. What I have found as I learn how to organize people towards progressive change, is that people may not have time to lend towards becoming politically active – but they always have to time tell you their opinions on current issues. Conversations can be empowering for people. It is in conversations, we as people presumably have the time in our lives to question our own assumptions. Dialogue makes it easier to loosen the hold on our opinions; opening our eyes to another way of viewing a policy that may not directly affect us, yet acknowledging the inequality in legislation that indirectly restricts or limits another person's access to health care or education.
With my discussion group the Pleasure Education Resource for the Vegas Valley (PERVV), we bounce around new ways to start hard conversations about reproductive justice in order to initiate progressive cohesion. In our Pleasure Parties we attempt to get a cross-section of people in one room talking about all of the ways in which our issues overlap. My hope for creating conversations with community members around social justice issues is to get more and more people involved in the movement. I am especially focused on young women of color, because I can see the positive influence we have to offer to the movement as a result of the layers of oppression that affect our daily lives. Our very presence forces the issue of total inclusion, and everyone can learn from a different point of view.
As a new member of the growing reproductive justice movement, I feel extremely welcomed by activists and organizations from around the country. Growing up, I always idealized earlier generations of people who were involved in social justice movements. Every day I felt defeated. I felt invisible because I was a gender queer, working class, black woman. I did not feel heard or appreciated in my job or at school. I was not aware that I could affect change. Luckily, I was introduced to an activist conference, and I have been hooked on justice work ever since. Keeping in close contact with organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Choice USA, I have learned how to lobby and facilitate workshops that provide me a platform for my voice. Working as an organizer I can channel my anger from being an angry Black Lesbian with an opinion, to a Black Lesbian working for progressive change for all people. Working for reproductive justice makes me feel like I am not just a stereotype or a statistic, but an individual. I feel as though I have purpose in life.
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Choice USA's focus on leadership development has forced me to see myself as a leader, and to grow out of my comfort zone as observer, into the dynamic challenges of leadership. I am a product of their leadership development, and I know that each training or project I work on is an opportunity to develop my skill set, as well as to deepen my understanding of reproductive health and justice work. Soon I'll be awarded the Commitment to Leadership Award, and I am humbled by the experience. My loyalty to staying active and vocal in the arena of reproductive justice grows stronger with each new day. I look forward to the work.