“Healthcare for All” Campaign Launches, Domestic Workers Urge State to Expand Healthcare Coverage for 650,000 Georgians

Greetings Community!

SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW is honored to stand with the National Domestic Workers Alliance – Atlanta Chapter as members of the Cover Georgia coalition to demand Healthcare For All Georgians! Join us at the State Capitol and follow us on twitter @SPARKRJNOW this Thursday, September 5th at 5:00 PM as we call on Governor Deal to ensure the full promise of the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid in Georgia!

Expanding Medicaid will allow an estimated 650,000 people living in Georgia to have healthcare! SPARK recognizes that women, queer young adults, and young parents of color are among those disproportionately impacted by the lack of culturally competent high quality affordable healthcare that supports empowered family planning, sexual health, and reproductive health decisions.

All Georgians deserve to have insurance coverage for the medical care that they need!

My best to you,

Malika A. Redmond, MA
Executive Director

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If you don’t know, now you know! Black Men Standing for Reproductive Freedom

By Cortez Wright, Communications Associate at SPARK

Originally posted on the Strong Families Blog

Cortez WrightRight-wing push back on the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and contraceptive coverage, anti-choice billboards like emerging anti-choice leader Ryan Bomberger’s “Too Many Aborted” that target Black women, and a growing number of pregnancy crisis centers in Black communities are just the latest versions of a long history of surveillance and control over Black women’s reproductive health and rights. As Communications Associate at SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, I track this history of discrimination and fight to end it.

I am far from alone in this fight. Across the U.S., Black reproductive justice advocates stand against racist and misogyny-fueled attacks on women’s bodily integrity. By educating and organizing our constituencies towards pro-woman cultural change and progressive social policy, we stand against leaders opposed to reproductive freedom, who would much rather make policy decisions based on their own religious beliefs and imaginations, rather than the lived experiences of women and, frankly, facts. This anti-choice movement, though mostly White men, is also diverse in its efforts to undermine reproductive rights. Black men with media visibility who embrace anti-choice, anti-women positions are among their ranks, including Ryan Bomberger, the founder and Chief Creative officer of Radiance Foundation, Bishop Harry Jackson, a prominent evangelical preacher, and E. W. Jackson, Sr., the current Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

Read more If you don’t know, now you know! Black Men Standing for Reproductive Freedom

Papa-Activist Jerome Scott Shares How Fatherhood Inspired Him to Become a Revolutionary

Jerome ScottJerome Scott, Jerome Scott, Founding Member of Project South, Co-Founder of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Veteran, and Father

SPARK concludes our Papa’s Day series with a one-on-one talk with Papa-Activist Jerome Scott. Enlightened by his experience as a soldier in Vietnam, Jerome returned home and embarked on fifty years of social justice work.

Starting in the late 1960s, as an automotive plant worker in Detroit, MI, Jerome became co-founder of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Later, he moved to Atlanta, GA, where he maintains his ties to social justice efforts. Jerome is known worldwide as a founding member and former director of one of the principal southern based popular education organizations, Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide. During Jerome’s tenure, Project South was the anchor organization for the 2007 US Social Forum.

Today, Jerome serves on the National Planning Committee of the US Social Forum and is active in Grassroots Global Justice, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, and an advisor and mentor to many other social justice organizations. He is author/co-author of numerous chapters and articles on race, class, movement building, and the revolutionary process, and is a contributing editor to popular education toolkits and books including The United States Social Forum: Perspectives of a Movement, The Roots of Terror, and Today’s Globalization.

Executive Director, Malika Redmond, had an inspirational conversation with Jerome Scott, as he shared how fatherhood cemented his drive to make the world a just place.

MR: How does fatherhood shape your work?
JS:  
I returned from Vietnam in 1967 and began organizing. My longevity is tied to raising my four children.  Back in the day, we asked — what would our children take away from the movement? We were fighting for our children’s future. Having a family meant that you had to manage your time. You didn’t just impregnate a woman. You needed to be an active father. The gratification for the justice work I do comes from being a father. I am proud to be an activist and active father, to nurture children and a revolution. It is a total package, and an inspiration.

Living and working in Detroit, it was important to get Black leadership in the unions–and we did. I lived through the modern day Civil Rights movement and the end of Jim Crow, and it was us, the poor and working class at the forefront of the movement. We accomplished a lot together. Still, over the years, I’ve seen how reactionary forces chipped away at our progressive gains. We started losing our advances because we grew complacent and still. The great lesson I learned from my work in the 70s is that the movement ebbs and flows. We will continually experience both great gains and great losses as we inch closer to justice. That can sound demoralizing, but what sustains me during the lulls is knowing that the movement will rise again, grow even stronger, and make greater advances than in the previous period.

MR: How do you work in solidarity with Black women and reproductive justice?
JS:
Reproductive justice needs more visible solidarity from fathers. We have to get more people in our country to understand that an attack on one is an attack on all! Today, many southern states do not want to expand Medicaid as required by the Affordable Care Act. This is a disproportionate attack against poor Black women, yet it is an attack on all people — and we have to think and act that way across issue areas in social justice movement. We have to prioritize poor women and women of color’s rights even if we do not think their issues affect us directly.

MR: What words of wisdom would you share with other fathers?
JS:
The most important lesson a father can teach their children is everyday people make history.

***

SPARK thanks the indelible Papa-Activist Jerome Scott for inspirational advice on fatherhood, longevity in social justice movements, and on solidarity with reproductive justice.

To learn more about the US Social Forum, visit www.ussocialforum.net.  To connect with Project South, go to www.projectsouth.org.  To support reproductive justice work in the Southeast, join SPARK!

Papa-Activist BT Calls on Us to End Abortion Stigma and Transphobia

BTBT is the Founder of Trans(forming), a chapter organization of Female to Male Inc. (FTMI).  An activist and advocate for over 25 years, BT works on social justice issues like decriminalization and healthcare access with several communities: Black, trans, working class, homeless, and immigrant people. He fights for trans-inclusive health insurance with Trans Health Advocates Atlanta, and, as a member of the Solutions not Punishment Coalition (SNaP CO), he designs sex positive and safe approaches to sex work for trans women. He is a historian and keeper of the flame for Transsexual People and is currently editing his first book, Stealth World: Hiding in Plain Sight. Notwithstanding all of his rich accomplishments, most important, BT is a step-father, uncle, mentor and role model to many.

For our Strong Families Papa’s Day campaign, SPARK asked this father and social justice activist, “how do you work in solidarity with Black women in the fight for reproductive justice?”

“It’s really amazing to me how these really antiquated laws in Georgia and around the South – heck, country – still exist, especially when it comes to things that directly affect poor and working class communities.

No one knows better the power and allure of this system of patriarchy than a trans man. There is a war happening against women all over the world. The desire to control women’s bodies is as old as time.  Fighting against those systems of oppression that continue to devalue the majority population is something I have to work to be intentional about. Being involved in women’s struggles with close friends educates me and helps me work on being a better man.

Where I live in the West End community of Atlanta, GA, the Radiance Foundation had the nerve to post an awful, shaming and blaming billboard right in the neighborhood, saying Black women were the cause of Black genocide. I had to pass by it every day on my way home. It made me so angry that I, SPARK, and many others successfully organized and got it removed.

I first began advocating for reproductive justice many moons ago, when I was a teenager. I walked my friend into a clinic for her abortion. We walked through a barrage of shouting people holding up disparaging signs. I sat and held my very afraid teenage friend as she cried and wailed from the stress of that entire situation. From that day on, I joined the cause for a woman’s choice.

In my daily work with my organization, Trans(forming), I fight for the rights of all folks to identify and claim their bodies, their names, their choices as a human right. We collaborate with many progressive organizations. SPARK, for example, co-sponsored and helped us produce the only comprehensive name change booklet for the state of Georgia, and, along with ACLU of Georgia and Attorney Chara Jackson, we hold quarterly Name Change Clinics and hope to soon add Document Clinics.

In our continued connection and fight for ALL women’s rights – we speak up and out about transphobia in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer communities. We rallied against the Michigan Womyn’s Festival for not allowing Trans women to attend, and local Women’s health clinics who continue to refuse to treat trans women. With the SNaP CO, we fought against an awful ordinance seeking to banish sex workers from the City of Atlanta, which we saw as part of the continued profiling of our trans sisters.

I see ALL women issues – as basic Human Rights! Period!

Thank you, SPARK, for this honor, and seeing that there are many kinds of men in the community.  And lastly, Happy Father’s Day to my own walking example of a ‘good man’, my dad.”

SPARK thanks BT for his participation with our Papa’s Day campaign! BT reminds us that by fighting for women’s rights, we are fighting to uplift all communities. To learn more about the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition and get involved, check out their Facebook group!

To support reproductive justice efforts in the South, make a donation to SPARK.

Papa-Activist Terence Courtney Calls on Immigrant and Racial Justice Movements to Prioritize Black Women and Reproductive Justice

Terence Courtney

Terence Courtney, Southeastern Organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, Terence Courtney began his organizing work in the 1990’s as a founding member of Atlanta Jobs with Justice, a local coalition of labor unions, student groups, community members, and faith organizations. During his tenure, Terence effectively bridged Civil Rights to Immigrant Rights by speaking at forums, organizing the Immigrant Worker Freedom Rides, and supporting the right for undocumented communities to gain licenses and legalization in the State of Georgia. Today, he works for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration as the Southeastern Organizer. BAJI’s mission is to organize African descended people born in the US and abroad to fight for Racial Equity, Economic Justice, and Immigrant Rights.

For our Strong Families Papa’s Day campaign, SPARK asked the father and social justice activist, “how do you work in solidarity with Black women in the fight for reproductive justice?”

“The work that I do as an organizer with the Black Alliance for Just immigration (BAJI) and all the work I’ve done as an organizer for nearly 2 decades has been about the task of dismantling oppression. Through study and practice, I’ve learned that the many forms of oppression that exist are interrelated in an intersecting matrix that impacts the life chances of Black women and Women of Color the most. Black women and Women of Color have to deal with the triple burden of economic exploitation by capitalism, gender inequality by patriarchy, and racial discrimination by white supremacy.

With this understanding, I believe that people of good will who want to create a better world have to pay attention to the challenges that Black women and Women of Color face. When we are able to liberate Black women from this triplet of oppression, we then can see a bright horizon of freedom for the rest of society. This is why I am a supporter of healthcare access, reproductive choice, and the elimination of shackling incarcerated [pregnant] women in general, and Black women specifically. Moreover, when I organize for human rights as a way to help destroy oppression, I believe it’s necessary to prioritize base building, alliance building, consciousness-raising, and leadership development for Black women.

I am constantly asking myself and those I work with questions like: How can we involve working class Black women more? What are the particular ways in which Black women are affected by a given issue? How can we support people and groups with an orientation that focuses on working class Black women and Women of Color? Are there Black women in our community already leading this fight? These are but a few of the questions we grapple with as I, and my colleagues, press for social transformation. And this helps keep us grounded in real conditions, thus making our work more strategically sound and impactful.

This is why I am glad to partner with and support the efforts of SPARK. They are doing some of the most necessary work to fight for justice. I’m honored to do my part to help move their mission forward. I offer words of encouragement, and I wish success in engaging the timely issues that Black women face.”

SPARK thanks Terence Courtney for his participation with our Papa’s Day campaign! Terence reminds us that challenging and correcting the impact of patriarchy on Women of Color are key to bridging reproductive justice and racial justice movements. Not only should reproductive justice be important to Black men, but solidarity with Black women is integral to bodily autonomy for every Black person. To learn more about Terence’s work at BAJI, visit BlackAlliance.org. To support racial justice and reproductive justice efforts in the South, make a donation to SPARK.

This Papa’s Day, We Celebrate the Rich Legacy of Black Fathers Who Support Women’s Rights!

Greetings Community,

Ingemar and Kumani

SPARK honors devoted father, astute community organizer, and proud SPARK Board Member Ingemar Smith for Papa’s Day!

Today, we watched President Obama remark on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and saluting women like the late Dr. Dorothy Height for raising awareness of fair wages for women. Official statements of solidarity for women’s rights are a continuous theme of the Obama presidency beginning with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This week, SPARK will celebrate the rich legacy of Black fathers who support women’s rights — especially reproductive justice — through our Papa’s Day e-campaign in partnership with Strong Families.Look forward to reading statements of solidarity from Black men supporting Black women’s reproductive freedom, a timely article honoring the path blazed by Black feminist forefathers, and, what looks to be a lively discussion, a twitter chat on representations of Black fatherhood in the media.Like Mama’s Day, SPARK and Strong Families will enrich the social media world with words of wisdom from our communities, share important policy initiatives that disproportionately impact our families, and release beautiful e-cards with images of our diverse families that you can send to your Papa in time for Father’s Day!

Join us on twitter @sparkrjnow, like us on Facebook, and go to our website www.sparkrj.org to participate in our Papa’s Day campaign activities and learn more about Strong Families and SPARK!

My best to you,

Malika A. Redmond, M.A.
Executive Director

Mamas in the South Continue the Fight for Reproductive Justice

By Bianca Campbell, Organizer, SPARK

Originally posted at Flyover Feminism

Mama's Day

A Lifetime of Care – Strong Families – Mama’s Day.Org

Too often public discourse on the reproductive and sexual rights issues of women living in the U.S. South, as well as the Global South, describes women as perpetual victims of their location and circumstances—especially Brown and Black women. In an effort to highlight the gross social and economic disparities, these narratives lose sight of the fierce feminist organizing happening in these regions. Even well-intentioned reproductive justice leaders can forgo balanced remarks by focusing on the injustices. This is simply detrimental to our movement.

Read more Mamas in the South Continue the Fight for Reproductive Justice

Mary Hooks joins SPARK to talk about family, being a new mother, and policies to support families year-round.

Mary Hooks and Porter

Mary Hooks and Porter
Photograph: Ingemar Smith

For Mary Hooks, raising her daughter and changing the world is all in a day’s work! She is an organizer for Southerners on New Ground (SONG) — an organization that engages in grassroots efforts with queer people, people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class, rural and small town communities, and their allies throughout the South to make sustainable social change. Her 5-month old daughter, Porter, joins her on the road connecting with people who are redefining the region for vulnerable communities. At home, Mary proudly shares space with an amazing group of friends that infuse service to their neighborhood as a daily practice. In fact, they will hand out gifts to women living in the West End community of Atlanta, GA this Sunday for Mother’s Day.

We thank her for opening her heart and home for our Strong Families Mama’s Day interview!  We asked this movement leader about family, motherhood and about policies that support families year-round.

SPARK: To start, who makes up your family and what does family mean to you?
Mary: Porter, co-parent Brian, my sisters, immediate and extended family members, play cousins, my SONG family, and my roommates — or as I say my partnas! Everyone who shares space with us is family to me.

SPARK: Can you say more about seeing community as family?
Mary: It’s about being able to connect with people who don’t live in your home. We have a shared identity or experience and we come together and share a loving space. We hang out, we create, and support each other. We engage each other. We look out for each other. We create a bloodline.

Porter has so much to learn, but I do not feel responsible for teaching her everything. I embrace my community as family, my partnas as family — and that is nothing new. It’s going back to the ways we have always done it: as a village.

SPARK: So what has been your favorite moment as a mother so far?
Mary: One is when I actually labored for two days in my house. As a mom in that position, I was obviously very uncomfortable, to put it lightly — but I realized it was a shared experience. Folks were at the house camping out with me. My Aunt Lorraine was hooking up a fish fry at 2:00 AM! I had so much support! And in that moment, I realized that this is how raising my child was going to be. I just felt so held. It was amazing.

The second moment is after I bathe her and I get her all smelling good. I hold her, put on our soundtrack of The Colored Purple vinyl, and I hum her to sleep. I loved this movie as a child and the story has been such a huge part of my development. It’s a gift to share those moments with her.

SPARK: What tips do you have for mothers?
Mary: One tip I received was from Kate Shapps, my fierce comrade, about having your sacred no. Letting no be sacred so when I finally say yes to something, I can give my best. I am not going to spread myself so thin that I don’t produce good work for my commitments. This is something I am being more intentional about doing.

Another tip, you only asked for one, but just in case — a tip that Paris Hatcher (former Executive Director of SPARK) and Shannon Miller (Founder of All My Children Project) told me is to mother myself. What does it mean as a mother to love on, to dote on, and to pour into yourself — to resist this idea that you have to be a martyr for your child? It is not healthy in the long-term, and Porter doesn’t get my best self. I don’t come from a background where I was mothered in the traditional sense. I got mothered in pieces by several phenomenal women. So now, I’m piecing everything they taught together in order to learn how to mother Porter and me. So far so good! She hasn’t run away!

SPARK: What is something the larger movement could be doing?
Mary: Be mindful of the little treasures in the movement. SONG has been so accommodating for Porter. I can bring her to the office and on trips. They take care of her as if she was a staff member on the payroll, and I totally appreciate that. Do the “work” in a way that doesn’t exclude families, or discourages people to have families. Folks shouldn’t have to leave the movement in order to have a life that can accommodate raising a child. Thank you to my SONG family and other organizations that are modeling how this can be done.

SPARK: What is a policy change that would help you as a parent year-round?
Mary: Ah, a policy change… Overall, I think people should be able to reproduce, and to set up agreements and boundaries with no connection to the government. It bothers me that my friends who are same-gender loving want kids but can’t because there are so many systemic barriers that deny them from creating the families they want.  We should be able to decide how and with whom we make our families.

SPARK:  Finally, expanding access to home birth choices is another policy issue that could be very empowering for people—yet, it is highly debated in Georgia.
Mary: I was going to break the rules, but after laboring for 2 days, I wasn’t dilating. The midwife made a judgment call, and I wound up birthing Porter at the hospital. However, our choice in the way we desire to bring about life is a sacred one and whether people decided to have babies in or outside of the medical industrial complex, is their right to do so.  We have been doing this by ourselves for years.

SPARK: Any last words?
Mary: This is the best thing and the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Really, I get the honor? The universe chose me to raise another human being—or to be the facilitator of her being raised? That’s amazing, I’m grateful for the village that is helping to make her livelihood possible!

***

We honor Mary’s work at SONG, which is a “home to LGBTQ liberation across all lines of race, class, ability, age, culture, gender, and sexuality in the South.”  Become a member today!

Mary’s words bring to mind the importance of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice includes the right to define and plan your family with the ability to support them. To do that, we must promote progressive policies that affirm sexuality, gender, and access to abortion and contraception. Join SPARK as we fight for these rights on Mama’s Day and every day for our Strong Families!

Tracee McDaniel sits down with SPARK to share her incredible journey, activism, wisdom for families, and newly published book.

Tracee McDaniel

Tracee McDaniel
Photograph: Ingemar Smith

Raised in South Carolina, Tracee McDaniel left the South seeking community as a transsexual woman to return years later more in love with her family and southern roots. The founder of Juxtaposed Center for Transformation Incorporated, an Atlanta based advocacy, consulting, and social services referral organization working to improve the quality of life for all Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming community members, Tracee shares her incredible journey, activism, wisdom for families, and newly published book Transitions: Memoirs of a Transsexual Woman with SPARK during our Mama’s Day celebration with Strong Families!

SPARK: What is family to you?
Tracee: Family to me is unconditional love, accepting our flaws and all. As a family, sometimes we disagree, however, we know that we love each other. A family is constantly working out the issues, and hopefully, there aren’t very many. Family is a support system for when I am tired and frustrated — I can talk to them.

I was born and raised in South Carolina and my immediate family still lives there. My spouse and I met in California but have lived in Georgia for ten years. I wanted to move closer to home because my mother is getting older, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the airport and all that other drama. I just wanted to be able to get into a car and drive to see her. So, we decided that Georgia would be the place.

SPARK: You seem to have a close relationship with your mom?
Tracee: Yes, definitely. We have had our issues, especially growing up as a trans woman. Now, it’s a totally different story. We just had a conversation about the book I recently published. She felt guilty about some things, and I told her — it is from a child’s perspective. I view things differently. And to be quite honest, if it wasn’t for my mother’s strict ways, I probably would not be alive right now.

SPARK: Navigating family issues is a balancing act that a lot of queer and Trans people encounter. Could you share more?
Tracee: Well, sometimes you just have to separate yourself, which is what I did. When I was old enough to be out of South Carolina, I was out of South Carolina. So sometimes you have to put some distance and space. Eventually, and hopefully, it will get better. If I didn’t put the space and miles between us, I don’t think we would have had the relationship we have now. And sometimes it’s okay to say, “This is all I can handle now. Maybe later things will go differently and we will both be open and willing.” But it has to be on both parts. People mature as time goes by.

SPARK: Could you tell us about your book?
Tracee: It’s entitled Transitions: Memoirs of a Transsexual Woman. It’s essentially the story of my life in South Carolina, the dynamics of my family unit, and the challenges that I faced growing up transgender — before I knew what transgender and gender non-conforming were. I wanted to tell my story in my own words — express my feelings about certain things and to heal from them. The process was very cathartic and healing for me because I got a chance to address some challenges and issues I faced growing up, and I am so happy I have a mother who supports that.

SPARK: It’s amazing, yet, unfortunately rare for many queer and Trans people to reconnect with their family after leaving.
Tracee: Oh my gosh! I consider myself blessed. And that’s what I told my mother. I just sent her a copy of my book and she was concerned about some of the feelings I expressed — and I wanted her to know, that although I felt that way as a child, I don’t feel that way now. I know she did the best she could with what she had. And although we had our challenges growing up, you better believe that there is no one in my family who would disrespect me in her presence.

Now, my spouse and I go home for holidays and stay at my family’s home. I love sitting out by the fire and having one on one conversations with my mother.

SPARK:  You mentioned that writing the book was cathartic. Please share other ways that you center yourself and take care?
Tracee: I don’t start my day without meditation and prayer. I feel that it is very important to be centered and to have a spiritual foundation. I started visiting the Yogananda fellowship at the garden in the Palisades, California, and from there, I just started realizing the positive aspects of meditation. I dealt with challenges within and stopped looking to others to solve those challenges for me.

SPARK:  What are some of the issues you work on and policies you feel need to change?
Tracee: I am currently working with other community activists to prevent a banishment of sex workers in Atlanta, GA. This city ordinance is an attack on low-income people, communities of color, and trans women of color especially. We are researching what other cities are doing that empowers these communities instead of cutting them out of vital resources located in the city boundaries such as HIV testing, homeless shelters, access to their children and family, etc.

In addition to blocking the ban, we need to end employment discrimination. Transgender job applicants repeatedly tell me that once their gender identity is discussed, they have been shut out of employment.  This leads to a lot of the street-level sex work that keeps many queer and trans people fed: It’s about survival.  Finally, I’d like to see protections for trans women in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

***

SPARK thanks Tracee McDaniel for her dedication to uplifting our communities and sharing with us her path to healing, happiness, and love for her mother! During this Mama’s Day, Tracee reminds us the best gift we can give is compassion. “We’re all human beings — even mothers. Mothers aren’t perfect. They do the best they can with the knowledge that they have. It’s a blessing to have a relationship with your mother — so whatever is going on try and have a close relationship with your parents and to not give up.”

Transitions: Memoirs of a Transsexual Woman can be found at  thejct.org, Createspace.com, Amazon.com and Kindle

SPARK interviews Marilynn Winn about family, tips for mothers, and how our society can support mothers and families beyond Mama’s Day.

Marilynn Winn

Marilynn Winn
Photograph: Ingemar Smith

We begin our Strong Families Mama’s Day campaign by honoring Marilynn Winn. Ms. Winn is the extraordinary strategist behind Atlanta 9to5’s Ban the Box campaign that ensures employment opportunities for Georgia’s formerly incarcerated family members. She is also starting a new organization called Women on the Rise led by women impacted by incarceration both in and outside of prison.

We celebrate Winn’s wisdom and loving energy with an intimate sit-down interview where we discuss family, tips for mothers, and how our society can support mothers and families beyond the holiday.

SPARK: How do you define family and who is in yours?
MW: Right now, my family is my mother, my daughter, my son and my 6 grandkids.

When I think of how a family should be, the way I would love for it to be, I think of my grandma’s family. She had 14 kids and they all stayed in the same house. They all used that one bathroom and ate at that one table.

I visited for months at a time in Tuskegee, Alabama. My grandmother worked at a fish market, but she couldn’t afford the fish. She bought the red snapper fish heads and made a stew with grits and pork & beans. I used to turn my nose up at her dishes, but I learned to enjoy what my grandma supplied for us.

I really enjoyed those days because I knew my grandmother, aunts, uncles loved me. Genuine connections with my family and friends are the most important to me.

SPARK: What keeps you smiling as a mother in the movement and what do you need from the movement?
MW: I believe one day we will make a difference in so many Black people’s lives. They will be able to apply for a job, to get housing, to get benefits, to start our own jobs. Some people who have records can’t even get a professional license for certain entrepreneurial jobs—in other words, we can’t even hire ourselves!

And I smile because I am a formerly incarcerated person and mother starting this campaign with other mothers, other families impacted by incarceration. I have served my time, so you can’t hold it over my head! I just feel unstoppable. I just need more formerly incarcerated people to feel that way.

200 people return to Atlanta alone from prison every month. If I can get those people to feel like there is hope, we can do so much! When they can see a room of other formerly incarcerated people who are working, making moves—they will say, “I want to be a part of this.” So, that’s what I am hoping for and that’s what keeps me going.

SPARK: How can Ban The Box help people have the families they want?
MW: It will stop recidivism, meaning families stay together longer. Children will also have parents who can supply their immediate needs, and I think every family deserves financial stability. http://9to5.org/blog-post-winning-the-battle-to-ban-the-box/

SPARK: What tips do you have for mothers or anyone leading a family?
MW: I felt guilty as a mother for being formerly incarcerated. There were times I should have put my foot down with my children, but I felt like I owed them something because I had been away. Now, I love myself enough to say “no” when I have to, to say I deserve dignity. I didn’t leave you by choice. I did what I had to do to take care of you. So my tip is to remember that you are always a mom.

Also, I wish that all mothers who don’t feel love, feel love by loving themselves first. Once you love yourself, you are able to receive love. Every day, learn to love you.

***

We end this interview with a quote from Winn reminding us that we must remain resilient and that change is always possible. “I used to say that my bad times outweighed my good times. Now, I can say my good times outweigh my bad times. I could have been in prison. I could have been dead. I could have been a lot of things, but at 62, I am still here, I am happy, and I am making a difference here in Atlanta.”

This year, consider supporting Atlanta 9to5’s Ban the Box campaign striving to put formerly incarcerated mothers and all people back in the workforce. Financial stability and emotional dignity are two gifts few would turn down this Mama’s Day. SPARK works to bridge the intersections between economic justice, reproductive justice and mass incarceration. Let women know that you support our autonomy and respect our leadership by donating to SPARK.