In 2017, the summer before her first year of college at Tulane University, Lakia Williams was searching online for books on Black feminists. The election of Donald Trump had made Williams more aware of her Blackness and her own internalized anti-Blackness. She typed “Black feminism” on YouTube, not realizing it was an established term.
“I was trying to learn more about Blackness, and I wanted to listen to what Black women say about feminism,” says Williams, who happened upon a YouTuber who recommended the book Killing the Black Body, by Dorothy Roberts. “That’s where I learned about the history of racism and reproduction since slavery up until now,” says Williams. As she learned about the history of reproductive violence against Black women — including enslaved Black women being subjected to medical procedures without anesthesia by a white doctor — she realized she wanted to be a gynecologist.
Williams also learned about the reproductive justice movement, which was founded in 1994 by Black women to chart a path for Black women and women of color to gain autonomy over their reproductive health. Given its emphasis on centering the experiences of Black women and women of color, she felt inherently accepted in the movement even before she began work in the field.
Then, during her second year of college, another important book crossed her path. “One of the professors at my school has a book [Women Against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century, by Karissa Haugeberg] with a chapter about the history of abortion providers and how people used to bomb abortion clinics and set abortion providers’ homes on fire,” says Williams, who realized while reading it that she wanted to become an abortion provider. Now, with the confirmation of conservative-leaning Supreme Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October, abortion rights are likely in even more peril, she points out. “It seems that Roe v. Wade could be overturned… and I wouldn’t be that surprised,” says Williams.
Years before Barrett’s appointment, Williams was exposed to an environment filled with anti-abortion sentiment, spending most of her formative years in Texas and Florida (her dad was in the military, so her family moved around frequently), states that are home to many restrictive abortion laws. While in high school in Florida, she witnessed anti-abortion activists standing outside her school with pictures of fetuses. She now lives in Louisiana, where there are just three abortion clinics. But Williams didn’t realize the extent of the violence abortion providers face and how committed people were to stopping abortion from becoming legal until she read the book by Haugeberg.
“This [the book] made me think, ‘Wow, abortions are really under threat in this country,'” says Williams.
Around April, coupled with the police killing of Breonna Taylor, Williams noticed many of her peers railing against white supremacy and capitalism on social media but failing to live those values offline. Williams took to her Instagram stories to share her frustration. People sent her DMs to commiserate, and at first, the solidarity felt cathartic, but Williams’ frustration always returned. As an intern at the reproductive justice organization SisterSong, Williams had an idea: She wanted to talk about reproductive justice, activism, and Blackness, connecting them together. She pitched the idea of a podcast to SisterSong, and the organization agreed to produce it with her as host.
The first episode of Black Feminist Rants debuted on July 1, 2020. Now, 16 episodes later, 21-year-old Williams no longer feels continually angry when she witnesses performative activism online. Instead, she puts her energy into talking openly about abortion, such as discussing Louisiana’s anti-abortion constitutional amendment, which passed on Nov. 3.
Her work for reproductive justice extends beyond audio. In 2019, Williams launched an initiative to provide free emergency contraception for students at her school and the nearby Jesuit Loyola University.
In November, Williams became SisterSong’s digital organizer, creating content for the organization’s social media channels and to connect young people to the reproductive justice movement. Although she’s still in college (she studies neuroscience and is pre-med), Williams plans to take a two-year gap, working part-time for both SisterSong and the Reproductive Justice Action Collective (where she currently manages its social media) or perhaps working at one organization full time, before going on to med school. After that, she’d like to be an abortion provider in the South.
Whatever she does, she’ll be fully enmeshed in the fight for reproductive justice. “Even if it’s not in my lifetime, we will have a future beyond this [reproductive injustice],” says Williams.
Here’s what Williams has to share about her work and what aspiring activists can do to make change happen.
1) What’s one piece of advice you’d give young people looking to get involved in activism?
“If you want to be an activist, it’s all about collective organizing … you can’t “do” activism without people who are going to hold you accountable,” says Williams.
She advises finding people and groups who have the same values as you do and are passionate about the same causes.
2) Why are young people’s voices integral in reproductive justice?
“We are just as impacted by reproductive injustices, if not more so, than older people. For instance, I talked about abortion bans [in Louisiana], and one common one is the parental consent laws [requirement for most people under 18 to get parental permission to obtain an abortion] and that directly affects young people … and takes away your autonomy.”
Williams encourages young people to get into the fight against these restrictive laws if they’re passionate about reproductive justice.
3) What are some tools or resources that budding young activists can use to inform and propel their activism?
“Having a community of people who are interested in whatever issue you’re interested in [is helpful] because you can learn and grow together.”
Williams recommends people check out her Black Feminist Rants podcast episodes, where she’s interviewed young activists such as Aura Nicole and Tia Coleman. She also says to read as much as you can about the issues you’re passionate about.
“A lot of my growth happened when I started reading books about the issues that I care about and then talking to people about what I was learning.”
4) What would you tell someone who feels disillusioned with politics or the current state of the world? Why is it still important to get involved?
“One thing I’ve tried to remind myself as I become disillusioned is, I think that’s part of the process,” says Williams. “I think for people who went to public schools, especially in the South like me, we’re not taught about the history of racism and reproduction.”
Williams thinks if we were taught about Black revolutionaries like Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, and Cedric Robinson, “We’d understand that these people have been very disillusioned with the state of the nation. If you’re becoming disillusioned, you’re probably on the right track, because if you’re not disillusioned, then you wouldn’t see a need for real change,” she says.
To keep herself going, Williams reminds herself of the progress that has happened: “I can talk about these issues, where my ancestors couldn’t.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.