When I was a freshman in college I wanted to major in physics. It was my dream to be an astrophysicist, to study the stars. I began taking physics classes during my first year, and some of the best advice I have ever gotten in life pertained to a problem I was having trouble with. The instructor said, “Now, what is the first thing we do when we start a problem? Write down everything we know. We already have all the information we need to solve this problem.”
I followed that advice for every subsequent physics problem I ever did in college. It became routine for me, and although I didn’t solve every problem successfully, writing down the known information at the beginning made it a lot easier for me to believe that I could figure the rest out. However, the further I got into my physics coursework the more and more I realized that I was no longer interested in it. Something deeper was calling me.
Now that I look back on that time, I realize that my purpose was bigger than what I was dreaming for myself. It took some time to figure out what that purpose really was, but eventually I stumbled upon it. During my sophomore year of college there was a film screening and panel that I went to on campus. The documentary was called “We Always Resist—Trust Black Women” and it was created by the Trust Black Women partnership of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. At the time, I had no idea what the term “reproductive justice” meant, but I went anyway.
The documentary and panel discussion opened my eyes to the world of the reproductive justice movement, a movement created by Black women in the 1990s that addresses the social causes of reproductive oppression. Whereas the pro-choice movement can be limiting in that it focuses on privacy as its main rationale for why women should have access to abortion, the reproductive justice movement broadens the scope of the conversation. It addresses poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, lack of access to education, and other systems of oppression that affect a woman’s decision whether or not to have a child and the ability to raise her child in a healthy environment. The reproductive justice movement recognizes race as a major player in each of these systems of oppression and incorporates racial justice into its activism. I very quickly became passionate about the movement and sought ways to get involved. There was something about it that resonated with me—a movement started by Black women to advocate for issues that affect us and our bodies, which have historically and systematically been oppressed, marginalized, and abused. It was a movement that I could relate to on a very personal level.
As excited as I was to get more involved with the movement I also had some doubts. I started to question if this was really the plan God had for me. But with prayer, more research, and discussions with other Christians within the movement I came to realize that our bodies are important, and bodily oppression is just as much an assault by the enemy as anything else. Reproductive justice is about the greatest gift there is—life. I am a part of this movement because issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse are ravaging our communities. Because I believe that a woman should be able to choose when and if she has a child. Because I believe that a woman’s body is hers and that the decisions she makes about it are between her and her God. Because I believe in justice, and I believe in liberation.
I cannot sit back while our bodies are being disrespected and our agency is being ignored. Thankfully I am not alone in this fight. There is a long legacy of activists who have come before me who are trailblazers within the reproductive justice movement. I am blessed to have met a handful of them, and I am thankful for the mentorship they provide me with. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is a network of Faith leaders and other members of the faith community who are all committed to ending reproductive oppression, and it reminds me that there are others whose faith has led them to this movement—others who refuse to be bystanders in this fight for justice.
I am just a baby in this movement and there is much more that I need to learn and experience. The movement is so large and encompasses so many issues that sometimes I feel lost. The issues seem insurmountable. I don’t know where to begin, and the problems seem too complex for me to solve. But even though I’m no longer spending my evenings working on physics homework, I still go back to the problem solving method I learned my freshman year of college. I start with reminding myself of what I do know. I am an ambitious, beautiful, intelligent child of God. I have a loving support network of friends, family, and mentors who believe in me. I am called and chosen by God, and I know that He is with me wherever I go. With that information I think I can figure the rest out.
Olivia Smarr is a young Christian woman interested in the intersections between faith, sexuality, and justice. She is currently a student at Stanford University and intends to pursue a career in reproductive justice activism. Olivia enjoys writing about feminism and pop culture. You can follow her commentary on Twitter: @kahmil_