My name is Mwende Katwiwa and I am a poet, a Pan-Africanist and a freedom fighter.
I was 23 years old when I first heard about Reproductive Justice. I was working at Women with a Vision, where I learned that Reproductive Justice was defined by Sister Song as: One: A woman's right to decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth. Two: A woman's right to decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy. And three: A woman's right to parent the children she already has in safe and healthy environments without fear of violence from individuals or the government.
I've always wanted to be a mother.
Growing up, I heard all about the joys of motherhood.
I used to dream of watching my womb weave wonder into this world.
See, I knew I was young.
But I figured,
it couldn't hurt to start planning for something so big, so early.
But now, I'm 26 years old.
And I don't know if I have what it takes to stomach motherhood in this country.
See, over the years, America has taught me more about parenting
than any book on the subject.
It has taught me how some women give birth to babies
and others to suspects.
It has taught me that this body will birth kin
who are more likely to be held in prison cells
than to hold college degrees.
There is something about being Black in America
that has made motherhood seem
Seem like, I don't know what to do to raise my kids right
and keep them alive.
Do I tell my son not to steal because it is wrong,
or because they will use it to justify his death?
Do I tell him
that even if he pays for his Skittles and sweet tea
there will still be those who will watch him
and see a criminal before child;
who will call the police and not wait for them to come.
Do I even want the police to come?
Too many Sean Bells go off in my head when I consider calling 911.
I will not take it for Oscar Grant-ed that they will not come and kill my son.
So, we may have gotten rid of the nooses,
but I still consider it lynching when they murder Black boys
and leave their bodies for four hours in the sun.
As a historical reminder
that there is something about being Black in America
that has made motherhood sound
Sound like one morning I could wake up
and see my son as a repeat of last week's story.
Sound like I could wake up and realize
the death of my daughter wouldn't even be newsworthy.
So you can't tell me that Sandra Bland is the only Black woman
whose violence deserves more than our silence.
What about our other dark-skinned daughters in distress
whose deaths we have yet to remember?
What about our children
whose lives don't fit neatly between the lives of your genders?
See, apparently, nothing is a great protector
if you come out of a body that looks like this.
See, there is something about being Black in America
that has made motherhood sound
like something I'm not sure I look forward to.
I've written too many poems about dead Black children to be naïve
about the fact that there could one day be a poem written about my kids.
But I do not want to be a mother who gave birth to poems.
I do not want a stanza for a son
nor a line for a little girl
nor a footnote for a child who doesn't fit into this world.
I do not want children who will live forever
in the pages of poetry,
yet can't seem to outlive
I was invited to the TEDWomen conference to perform a poem. But for me, poetry is not about art and performance. It is a form of protest. Yesterday, during rehearsal, I was told that there had been two to three recent TED Talks about Black Lives Matter. That maybe I should cut down my TED Talk so it could "just" be about Reproductive Justice. But that poem and this talk is fundamentally about my inability to separate the two. I was 21 years old —
I was 21 years old when Trayvon Martin was murdered. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black boy, a Black child, reminded me reminded us how little this nation actually values Black life. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became the most recognized call for Black people and our children to live in safe environments and healthy communities without fear from violence from individuals or the state or government.
Months later, when George Zimmerman was not held responsible for murdering Trayvon Martin, I heard Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, speak. Her testimony so deeply impacted me that I found myself constantly asking, what would it mean to mother in the United Stated of America in this skin? What does motherhood really mean, when for so many who look like me it is synonymous with mourning? Without realizing it, I had begun to link the Reproductive Justice framework and the Movement for Black Lives. As I learned more about Reproductive Justice at Women With A Vision, and as I continued to be active in the Movement for Black Lives, I found myself wanting others to see and feel these similarities. I found myself asking: Whose job is it in times like this to connect ideas realities and people?
I want to dedicate this talk and that poem to Constance Malcolm. She is the mother of Ramarley Graham who was another Black child who was murdered before their time. She reminded me once over dinner, as I was struggling to write that poem, that it is the artist's job to unearth stories that people try to bury with shovels of complacency and time.
Recently, Toni Morrison wrote, "In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent. There is no time for self-pity, no room for fear." Yesterday, during rehearsal, when I was told that I should "maybe cut the Black Lives Matter portion from my talk," I found myself fearful for a moment. Fearful that again our stories were being denied the very stages they deserve to be told on. And then I remembered the words I had just spoken. "In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent. There is no time for self-pity.
There is no time for self-pity. And no room for fear." And I have made my choice. And I am always choosing.