New play ‘The Billboard’ shows changing the abortion narrative isn’t easy – South Side Weekly

know about New play ‘The Billboard’ shows changing the abortion narrative isn’t easy – South Side Weekly

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Aat its core, Billboard, a play by journalist and author Natalie Moore, addresses the issue of abortion by exploring how multiple generations of Black women are talking about abortion and how it relates to self-care, reproductive justice, community, and economic divestment. Showcasing the conflict between the main characters and a group of anti-abortion advocates, the play addresses important issues surrounding abortion and suggests that there is more to reproductive justice than the right to choose. But the work does not offer the readers or the public definitive answers; Billboard it demonstrates how we know less than we think, and serves as an invitation to open up to the perspectives and experiences of others.

The play takes place in contemporary Englewood. Once a thriving neighborhood, it has lost much of its population and homes in recent decades. Long subject to systemic disinvestment, Englewood is now also threatened by gentrification, which forms the backdrop to the events of the play.

The story begins in the run-up to a local election in which incumbent City Council member Cheryl Lewis is up against Demetrius Drew, a community activist known for his advocacy for black liberation. However, she is also described as a sheep in wolf’s clothing and there seems to be an unclear and hidden agenda behind her campaign against Lewis. Drew puts up a sign reading “Abortion is Genocide” right next to the Black Women’s Health Initiative, a “reproductive rights center and medical clinic.”

Drew’s campaign sees gentrification in Englewood as an imminent threat that is driving out an already declining and underresourced Black community. To blame for the supposed danger of gentrification, she argues, is black women who abort, thus “killing” the future black generation. She claims that government and business are less likely to invest in a community that is seen as expendable and in decline. As a result, he believes Englewood will continue to experience divestment until it is swallowed up by gentrification.

The protagonists are three women who are the pillars of the Black Women’s Health Initiative. Dr. Tanya Gray is the clinic’s lead physician and leads its day-to-day operations. Her care for her patients reflects her deep dedication to the well-being of the community. Kayla Brown, in her early twenties, is a program assistant at the clinic and is preparing for college. She is strategic and knowledgeable about managing the clinic’s public relations on social media. Amid her efforts to change the narrative around abortion endorsed by Drew, she keeps the clinic’s smaller operations running and teaches value when she publicly shares her abortion story. Dawn Williamson is the chair of the clinic’s board of directors. Her responsibilities primarily involve ensuring that all aspects of the clinic are running efficiently and leading strategic development initiatives for the long-term success of the clinic. Each woman is a strong leader in her own right and brings information to conversations about abortion.

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To retaliate against Drew’s campaign and abortion stigmas, they created a new billboard that reads “Abortion is Self Care.” Given that the community is divided on whether or not abortion should be a legal right, it is not surprising that describing abortion as self-care evokes mixed reactions of support, indifference, and hostility. “Self-care,” in this case, does not refer to marketed self-care practices like masks, lunches, or extravagant vacations, but something that has the potential to heal deep intergenerational wounds in many Black families and communities. Hence, to fuel their activism, Dr. Gray, Brown and Williamson accompany the message on their billboard with the hashtag #TrustBlackWomen, which has become a trend on social networks within the world of the work.

Through his activism, Billboard facilitates a conversation about reproductive justice being more than just reproductive rights. These two terms are sometimes mistakenly understood as synonymous, but the conversations and reasoning that the three protagonists present to the audience illuminate a critical difference between the two.

While reproductive rights refer to having the right to choose to have an abortion and place access to these decisions in a legal framework, reproductive justice broadens the concept to include economic, social and health factors. For example, while marginalized groups have a right to health care, they may not have ongoing access to comprehensive sex education and public programs that help feed mothers, children and babies. So while abortion rights, and reproductive health care in general, are a remarkable foundation, advocates working for reproductive justice know there is more to decision-making and genuine autonomy.

Dr. Gray, Brown, and Williamson grapple with this reality as they confront the public’s reaction to their message of abortion as a self-care practice. They realize that many people believe their concerns are unwarranted because women already have the right to an abortion. Their response is outlined in a discussion between them about how Engelwood is an example of a community that lacks resources, programs, and financial support for people to exercise their reproductive rights. For this reason, Williamson and Dr. Gray work hard to keep the Black Women’s Health Initiative open.

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The protagonists find no solace in politicians and policies throughout their battle. Instead, they find refuge in their community and with each other. Dr. Gray, for example, has a circle of sisters who listen to her and provide emotional support as she shares her grievances with her efforts to change the abortion narrative. Although the circle of sisters only paid attention, her time and words of encouragement and support meant that Dr. Gray knew she was not alone and gave her the energy to keep going.

Billboard it also reminds us that much of the social problems we face today are intergenerational. Brown shares his experience and the reason he had an abortion during his teens. The ages of Dr. Gray, Dawn and Lewis range from 40 to 60 years old. They each share their perspectives and experiences with navigating abortion in this community, which they feel often puts the world’s problems at the feet of Black women.

It’s more, Billboard It subtly reminds us that all women must be heard. This reminder comes through Williamson, who is on the clinic’s board of directors and is a lesbian. In a scene between Dr. Gray and Williamson, Dr. Gray wrongly implies that Williamson does not understand the weight she feels on her shoulders as a woman fighting for abortion rights and reproductive justice. Williamson responds by stating that whether she and her wife get pregnant or not, she knows what it feels like to be disrespected, ignored, abused and tired. Her sexuality does not make her immune to the pain of seeing her rights threatened and other social problems faced by marginalized women. The four women contribute to the fight to change the narrative on abortion, women’s autonomy and reproductive justice. The play presents the argument that no generation carries the torch, and no age is left behind or unscathed by social injustices and prejudices.

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Also, none of the women give the same reason for having an abortion. His reasons vary widely and illustrate its complexities. For example, Kayla shares her story of getting pregnant at seventeen with her high school boyfriend. She wasn’t ready to be a mother and she didn’t want to wait to go to college. Lewis had an abortion for health reasons. More specifically, the doctors told her that there was a high probability that giving birth would be life-threatening. Dr. Gray had an abortion because she knew that she and her partner were not ready to have a child. Every reason for abortion is valued and respected equally.

Despite deftly navigating questions and issues related to reproductive justice, the work does not arrive at any definitive and finite answers. There is no single institution to blame for Englewood’s sordid financial situation in the play, and no single reason to have an abortion. There is no single generation to designate as the “social reformers” and no specific generation to blame for the lack of reproductive rights and reproductive justice. There is no single institution to blame for inequality in reproductive justice, and there is no obvious solution to this problem.

Consequently, the audience is left with a harsh but potentially liberating truth that we know far less than we think. How do we find out more?

My conclusion was that the key to getting more information is to be open enough to listen to as many perspectives as possible, something the protagonists of the play do repeatedly. To ask is to admit that one does not know. Acknowledging that you don’t know is removing the fear of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This vulnerability creates the opportunity to build bridges between different communities and mindsets.

the Billboard it reminds us that vulnerability can be our greatest strength as we take action to solve our social problems.

Natalie Moore, Billboard. $16 (paperback). Haymarket Books, 2022. 100 pages.

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Tebatso Duba is a lifelong learner who enjoys exploring and telling stories of people, events and projects from an optimistic philosophical perspective. they last wrote about the Haji Healing Hall.