Southern Advocates Summit: Reflection

Southern Advocates Summit: Reflection

As someone who grew up in the South, it took time for me to understand the South’s role in my life, to reframe my experiences, and to choose to learn from and listen to the South. This is a takeaway I hope everyone can have, which would require humility and the centering of some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. This lesson was reaffirmed for me when I had the unique opportunity to meet with the Southern Advocates Network, a group of advocates that work at the intersection of Sexual and Reproductive Justice and Medicaid. The Southern Advocates Network is the epitome of resilience and power as its members fight for reproductive justice in a region where attacks are constant and unyielding. 

On May 16 and 17, nineteen members of the Southern Advocates Network convened in person for the very first time in Atlanta, Georgia. Representing Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, these advocates came from various legal aid organizations and reproductive justice organizations; some members work with specific populations, such as adolescents and college students. 

Network members shared their expertise on topics such as Medicaid expansion, access to care for people with HIV, immigrant access to Medicaid coverage, family planning services, and Section 1557. The grant recipients for NHeLP’s Family Planning Model Notice Project had the opportunity to present their accomplishments from the past month, including creating a model notice and developing a Know Your Rights template for individuals transitioning from full Medicaid coverage to family planning coverage. This initiative will help people better understand changes in their health care coverage in the South. 

The summit provided an opportunity not only to gain substantive knowledge but also to connect with others who understand the challenges of working in hostile states. Through in-depth discussions and strategy sessions, participants identified common themes and challenges, enabling Southern Advocates to better coordinate their reproductive justice advocacy efforts.

This summit is just a launching point for what is yet to come. There is much more we can and will learn from each other. We shared funding resources, communications resources, self-care resources, and professional development resources. We will soon engage in reproductive justice training for this community. There is more we hope to accomplish in the future, so please support and uplift these Southern communities and continue investing in the South.

The organizations represented in-person included: Birth in Color RVA, Yellowhammer Fund, Mississippi Center for Justice, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Alabama Campaign for Adolescent Health, Lift Louisiana, Southern Aids Coalition, Charlotte Legal Advocacy, Kentucky Voices for Health, and Health Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia. Two organizations – Converge: Partners in Access, and Kentucky Health Justice Network – joined us virtually. 

Special shoutout to the Steering Council members for their leadership and support in making this convening happen. They are: Alecia Reed-Owens from MS Center for Justice, Kenda Sutton-el from Birth in Color RVA, Jazamine Hoskins from Converge, Chloe Atwater from Kentucky Equal Justice Center, and Kelsea McLain from Yellowhammer, who was recently highlighted in article on OtherWords

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