"Mamavist" Fellowship works to uplift the voices of mothers of color at the ballot box

Motherhood is often called “the hardest job in the world,” but it can also be the least respected and the least protected — especially in marginalized communities. Just ask the folks behind Mothering Justice.

A national organization, Mothering Justice centers the experiences and voices of womxn of color to address the health and economic disparities they face in America. Amplifying these experiences is the catalyst for passing policies that value the needs of mothers of color in America, their mission says. 

To that end, the organization recently announced the recipients of its 2022 Mamavist Movement Fellowship Program. This three-month fellowship began on Sept. 20 and ends in November. Recruitment specifically focused on mothers across the U.S. to become organizers and learn about running for office, specifically around the “Mama's Agenda.” The agenda is focused on achieving justice for mothers of color through affordable child care, basic needs security, reproductive rights, and earned paid sick time. 

Among the 100 participants of the fellowship program, roughly 25% are from Michigan, with others joining from states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and North and South Carolina.

"We hope that upon completion, our fellows will build relationships and understand the importance of building movements on a volunteer basis,” says Eboni Taylor, Michigan Executive Director of Mothering Justice. 

“They will learn how relational organizing, storytelling, and media are used to inform and engage others and develop a broader understanding of the womxn of color agency, protecting the vote, and strategy for voter engagement,” she says. “The program also works to strengthen core leadership skills among mothers to engage more fully in organizing, advocacy, and campaigns, and to feel empowered and equipped to take on greater leadership roles in their community.”

Their work has been particularly highlighted as the future of reproductive rights continues in the national spotlight. President Biden has pledged that if Democrats can hold on to Congress, he will sign abortion rights into law, restoring reproductive rights enshrined in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In Michigan, a yes vote on Proposal 3 in November would support providing a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom. Without this, advocates say restrictive abortion laws will endanger the lives of women — particularly women of color. 

Mothering Justice, along with its partners, notes that reproductive justice is not only about a woman’s right to choose, but a woman’s right to a healthy and safe pregnancy and birth. It's an issue Michigan Mamavist Fellowship recipient Tanisha DeBose is passionate about, saying that her relationship with the advocacy group has helped fuel her service. 

DeBose, affectionately known as “Lumi,” says she looks to be a pillar of light in perinatal spaces, and in her community. Through her work as a certified postpartum doula and lactation specialist, she serves mothers and their families.  Tanisha (Lumi) DeBose

DeBose carries this out as the Detroit coordinator for Postpartum Support International; an organization that focuses on providing resources and tools for those going through postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) and in her role as chair for the Detroit Perinatal Wellness Coalition.

She stands by the maxim, “If a mother is able to heal, so is her community.” Having experienced postpartum depression with her second child, DuBose knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle with PMAD. She says she is "whole in her motherhood" after seeking care, which is why she continues to advocate for mental wellness for mothers and their families.

To her, a Mamavist is “a change agent in their communities, one that strongly advocates for mothers to have accessible tools, options, and resources to operate in their best light.” 

She began following Mothering Justice via social media where she fell in love with their mission and started to partner with them on community engagements. When the opportunity for the fellowship presented itself, she says she knew right away that she wanted to be a part of it.

The Mamavist fellowship provides tools to equip mothers like DeBose to organize and bring about change within their communities, and to engage their networks to get out and vote this November. Women of color “rocked the polls” in 2008, she says, but they haven’t come out in the same numbers in recent years.  

“The midterms hold just as much weight as the presidential elections," she says. "It’s important that our Black and brown communities are educated on the issues that directly impact us, and that we recognize the importance of exercising our voices with our vote.” 

She says that maternal health, paid family leave, financial support, and other issues related to childbirth are also paramount. As a proud mom of three boys, she has learned that she is their first teacher. She says she enjoys watching them demonstrate bravery when facing new tasks and adores the sound of their laughter. She knows they are looking to her to be brave as well. 

“The fact that the government wants to govern our bodies and choices is absolutely ludicrous,” she says. “The issues aren’t solely about reproductive rights, but it’s a direct attack on those that are, and have been, historically underrepresented and misrepresented, and their right to choose their respective outcomes as they see fit."

"That’s why it’s imperative we utilize our voices at the polls and get involved with community engagements and organizations that support efforts for change," she says.

Mothering Justice is hosting their final “Ballot Bash” on Oct. 20 at the Eastern in Detroit. It’s the last of their “Votechella” voter engagement events for the 2022 election season. During Ballot Bash, guests will have a chance to mix and mingle with one another, political candidates, members of Mothering Justice, and its community partners. There will be fireside chats, live entertainment, a silent auction, and food from some of Detroit’s prominent chefs.

This entry is part of our Early Education Matters series, exploring the state of early education and childhood care in our region. Through the generous support of the Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (SEMI ECFC), we'll be reporting on what parents and providers are experiencing right now, what’s working and what’s not, and who is uncovering solutions.