A singer and spoken word artist who fuses art into her activism, Monica Simpson is executive director of SisterSong, a Ford grantee focused on improving policies and systems that impact the reproductive rights of women in marginalized communities.

What is SisterSong—and where did the name come from?

SisterSong is the largest multiethnic reproductive justice collective in the US. We’re based in Atlanta, Georgia. For 23 years we’ve worked to amplify the voices of indigenous women and women of color. We do that because we know how important it is to eradicate reproductive oppression in this country and beyond so that we have our human right to live healthy lives and create the families we want.

Our name was given to us by one of our founding mothers, Juanita Williams. She talked about how important it was for us to have different voices all singing in harmony with each other. That’s why we’re called SisterSong. Maybe we’ll be a band one day. Who knows?

The mission of SisterSong centers on achieving “reproductive justice.” What does that mean?

Reproductive justice is a framework that black women birthed in 1994 and is now a movement led by women of color. We have been organizing to bring our communities together around the issues that impact us the most. Over the past 25 years of this movement, we have continued to evolve in our understanding of sexuality, gender, identity, and ability—and we are still learning and growing.

It is a framework that’s intersectional. It advocates for the human right to have the children that we want, to not have children, and to end pregnancies or to have access to the contraceptives we need to determine how we want to make family or not.

Reproductive justice is about the human right to bodily autonomy. Overall, reproductive justice is about the human right to self-determine, the ability to be able to live free from fear and violence so that we are able to have healthy lives, and to grow and to live into our destinies.

What inspired you to work in this field?

I’m from a very small, rural town in North Carolina. Growing up, I saw oppression very early. I saw what it meant not to have access to facilities because the closest city was miles away.

Almost all of the young women I went to church with were pregnant before they graduated high school, and nobody was talking about sex. My high school had abstinence-only education and we were forced to sign this “prom promise,” but no one was talking about the fact that people were still getting pregnant, and that folks did not understand their bodies or what it meant if they had a sexually transmitted disease. There weren’t places or people we could turn to for help on making better decisions or how to plan for a family.

This movement for reproductive justice opened that door for me to have access to that information—to midwives and doulas and folks who do birth justice work who understand the importance of comprehensive sex education.

I feel this movement is my political home and it was waiting for me. I’ve done work in queer liberation work, and I’ve done work against the prison-industrial complex and so many other things that are super important to me. But this was the first movement where I felt like I could bring all parts of me together. And I didn’t have to separate anything to be fully present in this work.

My uterus, my queerness, my blackness—everything about who I am was centered and held sacred and was honored in this movement.

How do you spread the message about reproductive justice so that more people not only know about it but also join in this mission?

I’m reminded of the quote from the late poet and activist Audre Lorde, who dedicated her life to combating injustices: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” That quote really resonates with me. No one’s a monolith. Therefore, our movements can’t be monolithic. We have to understand that it’s important for us not to just think about what’s happening with our bodies but to think about how economics play into that and how the criminalization of our communities play into that and how our immigration statuses play into that. All of these issues are interconnected.

The importance of this intersectional framework that reproductive justice operates from is that it gives us more people power. It gives us more power to do this work and to move policies forward. The way we get the people power to do that is to be inclusive and to be intersectional, because it brings more of us to the table to be able to make the change happen.

What does equality mean to you?

It’s important not only to understand the definition of equality but to put it into practice. In order to practice equality, we must do the personal work necessary to understand and dismantle our own internalized oppression that prohibits us from being able to honor the human rights of others.