Pamela Merritt on Black History Month
Pamela Merritt, the Statewide E-Organizer for Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri, shares her perspective on celebrating this year's Black History Month:
Black History Month is particularly special this year because we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of seminal moments in the civil rights movement. I grew up hearing firsthand accounts of civil rights setbacks and victories from my parents. I also grew up with increased access to services, education, and employment all due to civil rights’ activists’ willingness to overcome the setbacks and keep marching toward those victories. I think of the civil rights movement as my inheritance, an amazing gift that I am honored to have and privileged to pass along to future generations. My contribution, made in conscious remembrance of those who sacrificed so much so that others may have the opportunity to realize their full potential, is to advocate for reproductive justice.
Long before I joined Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri as Statewide E-organizer, I knew the important role Planned Parenthood health care centers play in our communities. My mother was a volunteer and would often bring home Planned Parenthood pamphlets to teach reproductive health and sex education to her daughters. When I went to college and subsequently scored my first job, Planned Parenthood was my health care provider. Years later I needed resources to put together a wellness program at the local shelter for teen mothers and I knew that Planned Parenthood would have the medically accurate material my students can trust and deserve.
I also know that a right without access is a right in name only. That’s a lesson of the civil rights movement that far too many people overlook. Expanding access to create real opportunity is the constant theme that begins at emancipation and continues through history; the campaign to end lynching, the battle over implementation of school desegregation, every lunch counter sit-in and freedom ride, each of these steps on the road to equality centered on prying open doors previously barred to people based on race. The fight for equal access traveled onward to the struggle for voting rights and equal opportunity to employment. Now, even as activists work to maintain and expand access to the many rights won through the work of millions of nameless civil rights heroes, we stand up and face down those who would bar access to the full range of reproductive health care.
During Black History Month and as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington in August, let us recommit ourselves to the principle of equal opportunity and expanded access embodied in so much of black history. Behind every racist billboard that indicts black motherhood, within every bill that would restrict women of color’s reproductive rights, and in every slick video that distorts black history for political purposes, there lives the legacy of those who worked to ensure that our rights are rights in name only. As a reproductive justice activist and Planned Parenthood employee, I advocate for people’s right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments. I can think of no better way to nurture my civil rights inheritance and ensure that it will be a vibrant gift to pass along to future generations.
Happy Black History Month.