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Kierra Johnson Headshot

A Corrupted Dream

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The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is my legacy. The roots of my life begin in Valdosta and Decatur, Georgia. My family went to the Dr. King celebrations every year. I've attended Ebenezer Baptist Church. When I was about 11, I held a nice, tall man's hand as we marched. His name was Dick Gregory. We said it loud, "We're black and we're proud." The strong women activists of the Civil Rights Movement - Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisolm - they were my idols. And, now, some people are trying to take their legacy, my legacy, away.

This weekend, Glenn Beck will co-opt one of the most sacred moments of the Civil Rights Movement to promote his conservative ideology. A featured speaker at Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally will be Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Director of African America Outreach at Priests for Life. Her support for the event has been used to appease cries of disdain from people across the political spectrum.

However, we know that Dr. Alveda King does not support freedom for all as her uncle did. Earlier this summer she led an anti-choice "freedom ride" from Birmingham to Atlanta, perpetuating the fallacy that abortion is a tool for genocide against black people. And this weekend, she will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and claim that she shares her uncle's dream.

As a black woman, I resent the corruption of this liberating moment in history. And I resent that this rally and the freedom rides intend to further the marginalization and subjugation of black women. Too often people have tried to impose upon us what a "good black woman" should be. A mother, a martyr, one who doesn't talk about or enjoy sex or sexuality, one who never wants better for herself. Black women are more dynamic than the anti-choice freedom riders and ralliers want us to be. We can be pro-choice. Our legacy is pro-choice. We are pro-choice.

As a reproductive justice activist, I know that reproductive rights are inextricably linked to civil rights. When women were dying from unsafe and illegal abortions, legalization and access to quality providers saved black women's lives. Access to contraception, childcare options and sexual health information have empowered black women to better understand our bodies, take ownership over when and if we have sex, and control the timing and size of our families.

What has never and will never benefit black women is when someone else decides what is best for our bodies, our lives and our families. Whether being forcibly impregnated by plantation owners in the 1800s or forcibly sterilized in the 1970s, history shows that attempting to control women's bodies creates opportunities for sexist, racist and classist policies that have negative outcomes disproportionately affecting black women.

I do not believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr would support this rally or the anti-choice freedom rides. Dr. King's mission was for all people to have more autonomy, more opportunities. Certainly, he wouldn't support anything meant to take opportunities and autonomy away from anyone. And that is exactly what the rally and rides intend to do.

As a new mother, I don't worry that my child will end up on a list of "endangered species." I do, however, worry that there is not enough attention and resources focused on the shortage of education and job opportunities, the excessive incarceration of young people and the health disparities that plague our community.

If, as a community, we want to stand up for the health and well-being of our people, to increase the quality of our lives and honor the Civil Rights Movement, then let's rally for better education. Let's rally for accessible and affordable healthcare. Let's ride for a cure to breast cancer. Let's rally for more childcare options. Let's rally for the prevention of diabetes. Let's rally for the prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Denouncing access to abortion and reproductive healthcare services is a game of smoke and mirrors. We need only look in the faces of people battling these real problems to know that these are the problems that are claiming lives and hurting people. Creating false claims and made-up genocides that draw our attention away from the reality at hand is irresponsible and dangerous. We can't afford to believe the illusion.

The brave men and women of the Civil Rights Movement put their lives on the line to call for justice. We need that bravery now. We need to speak up and speak out for reproductive justice as a part of our fight for a future. We need to preserve our legacy.

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