SeQuoia Kemp: Reproductive and Environmental Justice - Environmental Narrative of Central New York (2023)

Written byenvironmental narrative

This tutorial provides a brief overview of how SeQuoia Kemp works. Contains discussion questions to guide conversations and activities for students and learners of all ages.

Created by:Winston Scott, Asia Frantz, Jacob Gedetsis, Sarah Nahar, Brice Nordquist, Hawa Omar, Maggie Sardino, Alexandra Scrivner, Gabriel Smith, Isabel Valentin, and Dominic Wilkins.

Some terms to get to know

SeQuoia Kemp: Reproductive and Environmental Justice - Environmental Narrative of Central New York (1)

Understand the history and the environmental issue

Reproductive and Environmental Justice

In 1994, a group of black activists gathered in Illinois to criticize proposed federal health care reform. Calling themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, they were concerned that reproductive rights movements focused almost exclusively on defending the legality of abortion. However, for many black women, keeping abortion legal was not enough to ensure reproductive freedom. The legal right to contraception is not sufficient if the costs are too high. In addition, mainstream women's and reproductive movements often neglect related issues such as the lack of adequate antenatal and postnatal care and the need for decent wages and healthy housing. As a result, they proposed the concept of “reproductive justice” as a new way of thinking about reproductive rights that is more consistent with broader social justice efforts.

SeQuoia Kemp: Reproductive and Environmental Justice - Environmental Narrative of Central New York (2)

A few years later, sixteen different organizations of women of color formedSisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collectivecoordinate and advocate for reproductive justice. They define reproductive justice as “the right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, to have children, not to have children, and to raise the children we do have in safe and sustainable communities,” and continue to advocate for much-needed policy changes and assist with education and training in reproductive justice. , and highlighting the links between reproductive issues and other struggles.

These struggles are intertwined with the pursuit of environmental justice, or an equitable distribution of environmental goods and evils, regardless of race, class, or other social categories. Everyday environments in which people live, work, pray and play have a dramatic impact on health, including around birth. Here in Syracuse, for example, air pollution from freeway traffic is a major health concern, as overpasses and exits on I-81 are often adjacent to people's homes. Lead poisoning from poorly maintained rental properties is another environmental injustice, as 12% of black children in Syracuse have elevated lead levels, twice the rate of the city's white communities.

1We can love the place that created us and made us who we are.½

Despite all this, we are still a long way from living in a reproductive society. For many, this unacceptable failure is literally a matter of life and death. In the United States, the mortality rate among pregnant women has increased over the past two decades. Every year 700 people die during or shortly after pregnancy, the vast majority of which would be preventable. This crisis is particularly pronounced among black women, who nationally are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. In New York State, the inequality in maternal mortality is even wider, with black women five times more likely to die in childbirth. The State Department of Health identifies discrimination "as a probable or definite circumstance" in 46% of all pregnancy-related deaths statewide. Meanwhile, babies born to black parents are much more likely to die before their first birthday.

It is of the utmost importance to right such wrongs. This is partly accompanied by an increase in state funding. New York State plans to allocate an additional $20 million in 2023 to fund adequate prenatal and postnatal care while significantly increasing Medicaid health coverage after childbirth. Given the dominance of profit and efficiency over equity and human well-being in most decision-making processes in the United States (as well as the injustices many marginalized people face when they seek healthcare from established sources), we need a broader systematic change.

Achieving reproductive justice takes work and community building. Only by addressing all facets of this interconnected problem, from the lack of adequate shelter and nutrition to resources that could redeem black people from the emotional and psychological toll so many suffer. groups likeDoula 4 a queenjsankofa sanaHelp organize this effort with the added hope that “self-directed reproductive wellbeing can heal the generational wounds of oppression and disease and transform the overall health of future generations.”

SeQuoia Kemp on birth justice, shared storytelling, and community building

SeQuoia sees the doula's work as an act "to salvage something that was historically ours and that has been taken from us by institutional reception...It's a return to the principles of serving the people in their community, giving them emotional and... to give physical support and spiritually. It's a return to taking care of ourselves to help our community heal. (NPR.). With the fall of Roe V. Wade, SeQuoia realized that doula care was needed in our society more than ever. She explains that “reproductive justice was a framework developed by Black and Indigenous women who recognized their duty to defend one another, to defend our right to bodily autonomy, and to organize for a more just and humane society. Drawing on her education and experience in public health and nursing, as well as her deep and extensive experience with mothers, SeQuoia prides itself on educating and representing her community in Syracuse. She strives to do so to be a home midwife and apply past teachings throughout her practice.

SeQuoia Kemp: Reproductive and Environmental Justice - Environmental Narrative of Central New York (3)

Some terms to get to know

reproductive justice: "A framework developed by Black and Indigenous women who recognized the duty to show one another, to defend our right to bodily autonomy, and to organize for a more just and humane society." (Source: Swann-Quinn 2022 ,

Maternally Toxic Zone: Areas with features that are dangerous for pregnant women, such as B. Lack of access to adequate healthcare, discrimination against certain identities, and higher rates of health problems such as cardiovascular disease. (Source: Aspen Ideas,

community doula: Obstetricians trained to provide physical, emotional and informational support to expectant mothers before, during and after childbirth. These doulas help provide care for expectant mothers in safe, trusted communities, accompanying expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy and beyond. (Sources: Ellmann 2020,, DONA International 2014,

birth justice
: The belief that pregnant women "are empowered to make health decisions for themselves and their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, childbirth and the postpartum period." (Sources: Black Women's Birth Justice,, Voices for Birth Justice,

abolish medicine: Abolitionist medicine operates within the modalities of transformative justice and actively dismantles structural racism in healthcare, medical education and care systems. He calls for the alienation of all health practices that further contribute to systemic racism and generational incarceration of marginalized people through the direct implementation of life-affirming systems, narrative medicine, and direct confrontation with structural damage. (Sources:

Model of Mother Justice: The Mother Justice model goes beyond individualized and culture-sensitive holistic care, but also serves to provide a framework for addressing broader systemic and community issues affected by the social determinants of health and social inequalities. This model advocates structural changes at the state, national, and local levels to ensure an equitable allocation of resources and the availability of doulas and midwives from diverse backgrounds for all births. (Sources:

Full Spectrum Doula: A full-spectrum doula provides medical care and support services for laboring women during pregnancy, during labor, and during postnatal recovery. A full-spectrum doula also provides abortion care, post-abortion care, stillbirth, and long-term care after death. (Source:

perinatal safe point: a community center that connects family members to give birthers access to knowledge and information that will enable them to make their own decisions about motherhood. Safe Spot also serves as an emotional support center for families of childbearing age during childbirth and the postnatal process. (Source:

discussion questions

  • What does environmental justice look like for Black, Indigenous, and Non-White families in downtown New York?

  • What have you always wanted to know about childbirth but couldn't ask?

  • How do we create space for generational healing on an interpersonal level, through our work and affiliated organizations, and on a societal level?

  • In what ways can knowledge about reproductive justice and maternal care be shared with people inside and outside your community?

  • How have you experienced the strength and comfort of being cared for by people in whom you can reflect yourself?

Activities and Announcements

Below are writing suggestions and activities for students of all ages.

Reproductive Justice and Mindfulness: Dialogue on Doulas

Watch the video above about doulas.

  • What is a doula?

  • What does a doula offer their clients that the medical system doesn't or won't offer?

  • How to intertwine and root the practice of a doula with justice and deliverance?

  • In this video, SeQuoia Kemp says, "Life experience contributes a lot when it comes to doula care and maternal health outcomes."

    • What is your conclusion from this quote?

    • Why do you think that the lived experience is important for the mother's health?

Discussion Questions:

  • Based on SeQuoia's discussion of her practice as a doula, what does it take for Black and Indigenous families to experience reproductive and ecological justice?

  • What historical and current realities make doula work so necessary?

  • How do environmental injustices intersect with reproductive injustices?

  • What can we as individuals do to support the work of doulas in our communities?

Write a message

How else could one write this scene (and/or its message) in another medium? Pick any medium and imagine trying to achieve the same effect as Corwin. What can film do that its medium cannot?

What can your medium do that film cannot? Each medium has its limitations, otherwise each can last forever. Think about what Corwin does and doesn't do in the film. What film could you pick up to expand your stories?

Sometimes the documented action is the story. Likewise, history becomes a form of action of its own. Think of an event you really wanted to attend. What stories could you make of it? If you were doing a short film or video project, where would you start? What do you need? Who do you want to involve and why?

Reproductive Justice and the Senses

This activity can be a writing or drawing exercise. It can also be an exercise in self-reflection or an oral exercise. What does environmental and reproductive justice look like? Tastes like? smells? Sounds like? Ready?

If you are in a group, discuss your answers with each other. What similarities and differences do you notice? What aspects of reproductive and ecological justice can you take for granted because of your privileges?

shaping reproductive justice

Divide a piece of paper into three sections. In the first section, draw an ideal picture of your pregnancy or your experience of pregnancy. In the second part, draw an ideal picture of yourself giving birth or attending a birth. In the third section, draw an ideal image of yourself after birth or as part of the postnatal experience.

  • Remember the drawings. Who are the people in the drawings? What objects are in the drawings? What differences between the sections do you notice? Based on your drawings, what are some of the things needed for reproductive justice? (e.g. access to healthy food, support networks, mental well-being)

  • If you are in a group: Share your drawings with each other. What are the differences and similarities between people's drawings? What would you add to your drawing after seeing other drawings? What has to happen for your drawings to come true?

call to action

Contact your New York State Senator, House Representative and local assembly member and ask them to endorse the Certified Professional Midwives Licensing Act S310/A7898A

  • Examples of scripts for calls and emails:

    • "Hi, my name is [insert name] and I am your eligible voter from [insert city and state]. I'm calling to ask you to pass the Licensed Professional Midwifery Licensing Act (Act No. S310/A7898A). New York is mired in an ongoing maternity crisis that is disproportionately affecting black and brown women who give birth. Licensing certified professional midwives is an important step in addressing this and offering more options for maternity care in New York. As (parent/midwife/member) I request that you submit the Certified Professional Midwife Bill (Bill No. S310/A7898A). Black maternal health and birth justice advocates support and encourage this bill. Thanks."

Donate Doula 4 to the QueenCommunity midwifery fund for pregnant women who cannot afford the services of a doula and want assistance with their birthing process.

Invite to Sequoiato speak in your organization or college/university.

  • Let your campus community know what's happening regarding the black mother's health crisis.

selected additional functions

The organization

Alianza Black Mamas Matter( envisions “a world where Black mothers have the rights, respect, and resources to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy,” raising the voices of Black mothers while empowering politics, research, and community care support financially.

Doula 4 a queen(, founded by SeQuoia Kemp, strives to "reduce racial disparities in maternal and child health through a community-based model of care" by helping families in central New York welcome a child.

The National Collaboration for Birth Equality( conducts training and research while providing technical tools and policy advocacy aimed at optimizing the “maternal, child, sexual and reproductive well-being of Black people.”

An officially designated "perinatal safe place" reflecting different cultural preferences,Syrakus Sankofa Center( provides reproductive services ranging from doula mentoring and training to yoga counseling and advocacy and counseling.

International Birth Village( wants to create spaces in which “people in the community can take care of their families in the fruitful year”. They currently minister to families in Syracuse, New York, New Jersey and northern Uganda.


Birth Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth, edited by Alicia D. Bonaparte and Julia Chinyere Oparah, brings together scholars, activists, and personal accounts of the black mother's health crisis.

von Octavia RaheemBring togetherbrings together poems, proverbs and meditation suggestions, helping readers to find peace with their inner being.

Em 1997, Dorothy RobertsKilling the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Freedomhelped bring more attention to the systematic abuses faced by black women in the United States. It remains a classic text on these subjects.

Loretta RossReproductive Justice: An Introduction(edited by Rickie Solinger) serves as a comprehensive and moving guide to understanding reproductive justice and gender politics in the midst of American racial capitalism.

NOReproductive Rights as Human Rights: Black Women and the Struggle for Reproductive Justice, Zakiya Luna discusses SisterSong's efforts for reproductive justice and the complex struggles for human rights in the United States.

Undivided Rights: Women of color organize for reproductive justicesee Jael Sillman, Marlene Berber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutierrez reflect on the reproductive justice movement from the perspective of women of color who are leading these struggles.


Consistent, a song and meditationlinked here, based on the work of Alexis Pauline Gumbsdidn't drownoffer a way to reflect on what it means to be alive and human in today's world.

tricia herseyspeak hereon “Peace and Collective Care as Tools of Liberation”.it sounds trueabout the importance of spaces for community rest and healing amidst often overwhelming struggles for justice.

Naima Penniman's poem A Love Letter to Future Generations, which shetrade here, talks about the connections between love and hope, children, things that grow and the future.

school supplies

Crystal M. Hayes, Carolyn Sufrin, and Jamila B. Perritt, "Disrupting Reproductive Justice: Mass Incarceration as a Driver of Reproductive Oppression"AJPH110, No. T1 (2020): T21-T24.

Elizabeth Hoover et al., „North American Indian Peoples: Environmental Exposures and Reproductive Justice“,Environmental Health Perspectives120, Nr. 12 (2012): 1205422.

Zakiya Luna and Kristen Luker, "Reproductive Justice"Annual magazine for legal and social sciences9 (2013): 327-352.

Lynn M. Morgan, “Reproductive Rights or Reproductive Justice? Lessons from Argentina",Magazine for Health and Human Rights17 (2015): 136-147.

Melisa Murray, “Race-ing Owner: Reproductive Justice, Racial Justice and the Struggle

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