Angela Ferrell-Zabala is the Director of African American Leadership and Engagement for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund
The things that I remember most about growing up in my family are the rich stories that were shared. The words would dance from the mouth of my mother or grandmother straight to my ears. I’d eagerly await the twist and turns while watching these animated women bring the sounds, flavors, and characters to life.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that those beautiful moments were more than just entertainment — it was my history wrapped in culture and community, and delivered with great care. This history was not likely to be recounted in the textbooks in my classrooms nor did I expect it to be known far and wide beyond my family, yet it still was a sacred history that planted my feet firmly on the ground and opened my heart and mind to great possibility.
As I journeyed through my young adulthood and began to recognize my own needs around health and wholeness, there was a deafening silence. I found myself craving the warmth and council of my family, my community.
Naturally, I sought those spaces out and would find myself perched up on the uncomfortable furniture in my dorm room or on the sagging couches in the black student union with other young women seeking that same sense of community. Our conversations would often revolve around reproductive and sexual health, as well as healthy relationships. The advice, encouragement or even the “calling in” conjured up the words of our mothers and grandmothers.
I remember sitting outside of the “towers,” as we called them, with a group of friends, the chill of fall just settling in as we watched prospective partners stroll by. One of the young women in the group told us that she was experiencing a strange menstrual cycle and wanted to figure out what was going on — but she didn’t want to worry her mother about it and couldn’t get back home easily enough to see the family doctor. In between the coy smiles and winks to the passersby, a young woman in the group mentioned that Planned Parenthood would be a great option, without missing a beat. That was essentially my introduction to responsibly owning my reproductive health. I held the words of those women closely, as they reflected back not only my culture but also our lived experiences as a community.
It should not come as a surprise that all of those interactions, particularly those that happened during my college years led me into the path of reproductive health and rights advocacy.
Today, I work at Planned Parenthood Federation of America to elevate and celebrate the experiences of black women as it pertains to their health and wholeness.
Having space to share our unique experiences, to teach and to learn, is paramount in protecting and expanding access to reproductive health, rights, and freedom. Planned Parenthood Black Community is important in delivering a broader vision — from our community, for our community.
We will hold this space responsibly so as not to erase the history but to honor the roots of this movement and the many stories and experiences that dance from mouth to ears. With our feet planted firmly, our hearts and minds are open to possibility as we push for the highest quality of care and the boldest action possible in our community.
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