Powerful Examples

August 19, 2019
Aimee R. Thorne-Thomsen

While I have many proud moments of working closely with Forward Together, there is one moment that will always stay with me. I was at a conference in New England in early 2006 and they were talking about reproductive justice, but most of the people in the room were reproductive health and reproductive rights advocates. They worked in litigation, or they worked in policy, or they worked as providers. Some of them might even have been organizers. But the combined words reproductive justice were being thrown around, and I was thinking, like, “You all don’t really know what you all are talking about.” While there were some reproductive justice folks in the room, it was clear to me that there was not a real understanding of reproductive justice.

At the same time, Forward Together, which was then Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ), was dropping their New Vision paper. I vividly remember huge boxes of the paper being shipped to the conference every day. Folks were consumed by the paper because they were trying to figure out exactly how to understand reproductive justice. I’d never experienced that: being in the field with people who were just so hungry for the knowledge and for the analysis. You could see people gravitating to the information, wanting something new, and really being invested in learning something new. It was really exciting and amazing.

I have worked closely with Forward Together for years since then. But for more than a decade, back even further to when it was still Asian Pacific Islanders for Reproductive Health (APIRH), I have known about the organization’s work in the movement. Although I had been in lots of rooms and heard Eveline Shen’s name, I finally met her and the organization through a fellowship program. I was on the selection committee because I also worked in the reproductive health and rights field. When I read the application, I was just completely over the moon with everything I learned. I volunteered to meet in person to talk about the application. I knew of the work, I knew of the organization — and here was a chance to really learn more in person. So, I flew out to Oakland to visit their office at the time, which was in Chinatown. It was really like two, two and a half rooms. That’s the first time I literally sat face to face with any of the staff. I would say I was connected to the organization, to the staff, and to the people ever since, even while I had known of their work and their brilliance long before I’d walked into that room at that time.

I think you can never underestimate the power of seeing good leaders, admiring them, and modeling after them. For me, some of the most powerful mentors and examples of effective and ethical leadership have been the people I have literally seen in action. When I think of Eveline’s leadership of Forward Together, through the years, I know how powerful an example she has set, for people of color, for queer folks, and for women of color.