Moving Forward, Together

Thursday, April 19, 2012

by Shanelle Matthews

Last weekend I attended the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference at Hampshire College. This conference provides a space for reproductive justice activists and activists in sectors that intersect with reproductive justice to engage in dialogue about how to meaningfully move our work forward. I’d been to CLPP before. I knew there would be a diverse group of presenters who brought with them years of experience working in reproductive health. I was prepared for the abortion speak-out where people told both empowering and disempowering stories of abortion and abortion access. I expected some healthy debate around language, accessibility and cultural appropriation. What I wasn’t prepared for was the response I would get when I told dozens of our allies, supporters, friends and family that we were no longer Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. Effective immediately we’d be known as Forward Together.

There were activists at this conference who knew our organization in its humble beginnings as Asian Pacific Islanders for Choice and who supported us through our transition as we became Asian Pacific Islanders for Reproductive Health. As our work evolved and the intersections of class and race revealed themselves as ever present, we emerged as Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, an organization who supports and develops the leadership of Asian youth and leverages the voices of the Asian communities, who often go unheard – and there we stayed for over a decade. Our allies and friends knew all of this about us. They supported and trusted us as a steadfast leader in reproductive justice and movement building. We worked together, learned together and grew together and here I was, at this conference, asking them to support us once more as we revamped ourselves and chose a name that reinforced the multiracial and cross-sector work we are so loyally committed to.

As I introduced us as Forward Together, formerly ACRJ, I scoured the room for reception. I wanted so badly for our people to be as excited about this name change as I was - to pump their first high in the sky in accidence and acceptance. I hoped, through osmosis, I was transferring all of my knowledge and enthusiasm about what an important change this was for us and how our new name was a better fit for what we were doing. I was met with a few cracked smiles, some inquisitive, searching eyes and deafening silence. Fuck! I thought. They hate it! Going back to the drawing board wasn’t an option so I quickly searched for ways to sell them on our new name, until I remembered – we’d been here before. Our previous name changes predate my work here but I detected in myself nostalgia for the embracing reception we’d been granted before and I breathed a sigh of relief. I continued to share about the importance of being outwardly authentic about how we are engaging in community to transform policy and culture in ways that support individuals, families, and communities in reaching our full potential. Resonance grew, smiles appeared and I could breath again.

Over the next couple of days I received a lot of questions about why we changed our name, how it affected our work with Asian communities and how it tied to our Strong Families initiative. It felt good, warm to be able to tell people face-to-face about our process and to share how important it is to us that we represent our intersectional work meaningfully and with as much direction as possible. It reminded me that a name is just a name until the work attached to it makes it more – that with time comes equity and knowing firsthand the level of commitment of the staff at Forward Together, there is no doubt in my mind that the connection will soon be made.

Shanelle Matthews is the Communicatins Manager for Forward Together