Six years ago, I packed my life and my conspiring cat P-nut to make the 817-mile drive from Los Angeles, CA to Albuquerque, NM, knowing I’d painfully leave everything and everyone I loved because I knew there was a change that needed me as much as I needed it. I took a leap of faith in myself and in this change when I accepted the role as Young Women United’s Executive Director.
At 26, I found myself stretching professionally like I had never stretched before. It was my first time leading an organization and as a young queer woman of color had never imagined the possibility of growing skills, community, autonomy, or love in this way.
I got my feet wet during my first year as Albuquerque faced the first municipal attack on abortion the country had ever seen. And while all the odds were stacked against us- according to national and local polling-the Respect Albuquerque Women campaign devised and led in large part by women of color, formed a strategy that defeated the ballot measure by a ten-point margin. Together, alongside our families, allies, comrades and loved ones, Albuquerque proved once more that communities of color are not a monolithic voting- block, that decisions about abortion belong to women, people, and families, that we- queer, immigrant, women and people of color deserve to tell the story of our own bodies and when we do we don’t leave anyone behind.
It was then that I knew the work I had become a part of was so much bigger than me, than YWU, or even New Mexico. This work, this beautiful reproductive justice work, is a growing legacy, framework, and social justice movement that is the creative spawn of Black Southern women who gave generations of women of color a gift to grow.
As we near the end of 2018, just a few days after wave making elections, I continue to be grateful for the strategy, courage, and strength of the many women of color who took leaps to run for office-whether they were elected or not, they ALL won. The time we’re living needs all of us to be doing the work that WE need to do, the work we are ready for, the work that is only ours to do, the work that is our gift. If it’s not already obvious, I am a huge fan and admirer of Adrienne Maree Brown and all the interventions and contributions she has made to raise visibility for the work of science fiction writer, Octavia Butler. Octavia writes, ”All that you touch you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” Like many others, I’ve been engaging with those words for some time now. Thinking and feeling through the changes in my life-the heartbreaks, the scars, the joys, the love I have the honor of knowing in service of a deeper question: What do I want to/need to plant now that can take root and be part of a harvest in the future, a harvest I can’t even imagine is possible, a harvest I may not live to see, but a harvest I deeply believe in? My close loved ones and dear comrades know how much I long to parent. I’ve had dreams of being a mother to a sweet someone named Xol for a long time now. I know Xol is waiting for me just as much as I am waiting for them as an ancestor returning home. This harvest I believe is in is much like the love I have for Xol. I’ve never seen Xol. Xol doesn’t exist in this world (yet), but I love Xol and believe in Xol in ways I can’t explain. I believe and have so much love for the world I know is possible and may not get to see in my lifetime. In service of that love, I have made it my role to change.
Two years ago I started thinking about what it would mean to transition from my role as Executive Director at Young Women United remembering that my first year as an ED was lonely and isolating and knowing I wanted to offer something different to the next generation of YWU leadership. During that time, YWU turned its attention inward to grow our infrastructure and create the necessary foundations for more supported leadership pipelines. During this time, I’ve also gone inward and am ready to find the next home(s) for the gifts I have to offer to the world I lovingly believe in and want to help grow. While I haven’t landed on any specifics beyond much needed Winter hibernation, coziness, and writing, I am so proud to continue drawing on creativity from the feminism that raised me- the kind of home grown feminism that gave me my first taste of courage in immigrant justice rallies and taught me to spit fire with all the love in my heart to keep saying yes to the unknown, yes to change. Because to me, thanks to Octavia, change is an act of love.
Over the last year, I’ve tried my best to make a very thoughtful and intentional transition from my role at Young Women United. Together, with our staff and board we’ve led an internal hiring process through which we have found an incredible leader who has been part of our organizing and is ready to carry this role. I am so excited to share that Charlene Bencomo, is Young Women United’s new Executive Director. In the coming days Charlene will be sharing more about herself and her visions for the future.
Young Women United has become a powerful force leading some of the most innovative strategies in our state, thanks to the work of our communities and staff. Women of color have shaped a strategy to improve pregnancy related care people may need in their lifetimes, weaving together a range of issues that are deeply interconnected and securing some incredible wins:
- In 2013, YWU lead an effort alongside ACLU-NM to pass HB 300, to establish the first statewide excused absence and leave policy for pregnant and parenting students across the country. This policy was designed to create equity in schools, so that young parents in New Mexico can have a fair opportunity at graduating from high school.
- In 2015, YWU worked alongside partners to create a pathway to licensure for free standing birth centers in efforts to center midwifery models of care to improve maternal and infant health outcomes. With licensure, birth centers now have the capacity to seek reimbursement for facility fees, making these maternity care models more sustainable.
- In 2016, YWU launched “Dismantling Teen Pregnancy Prevention” (http://www.youngwomenunited.org/report-2016/), a report debunking the negative and inaccurate portrayal of young families resulting from ineffective and harmful teen pregnancy prevention models. The report has contributed to building both a state and national narrative shifting the culture of shame and stigma faced by young parents.
- In 2017, YWU worked alongside ACLU-NM and the New Mexico Pharmacy Board to change pharmacy board rules to allow trained pharmacists prescriptive authority for over the counter contraception.
- In 2017, YWU worked alongside women of color navigating cycles of incarceration to gain bipartisan support to pass “Ban the Box” legislation that would give women and families coming out of incarceration a fighting chance at economic security. While the bill was vetoed by our governor, we see it as a win in changing hearts and minds for criminal justice reform.
- In 2017, YWU opened a second office in Las Cruces, NM, in the southern part of our state to bring the voices of our rural communities closer to decision making spaces and help make a shift in more resources to the borderlands
- In 2017 YWU solidified its research arm to shape and inform data analysis centered in honoring our communities’ expertise
- In 2018, after years of dreaming and planning YWU developed a feature film (more to come soon!) alongside women of color navigating cycles of addiction and incarceration to continue decriminalizing substance use and pregnancy
Young Women United is stronger than ever. The work continues to be smart, strategic, nuanced, deeply intersectional and grounded in love. Charlene is a humble, loving, smart two stepping Chicana who can country dance with the best of them and I am so happy and grateful for her leadership at YWU. If you share the love I have for this organization, I ask that you join me in welcoming Charlene and supporting Young Women United with a gift. I ask that you make a donation that is meaningful to you in honor of the change we’re all embracing together.
To the brilliant staff, board, communities, comrades, and co-conspirators at Young Women United, thank you for the honor of working beside you these six years.
Thank you to the unwavering support of my queer people of color family who has held me every single day of this journey. To my hermanitas and my baby niece Luna thank you for the sweet hopeful joy of being in your squad. Thank you to Eli V., for your love, for believing in me always.
To the desert, thank you for holding space for me to mourn and teaching me the difference between loneliness and solitude.
Y gracias a mi madre, who is my biggest fan, my super shero, and the reason courage is my greatest strength.
Please keep in touch family! My personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org