National women’s conference focuses on empowerment | Lifestyle

The upcoming Kinks, Locks & Twists: Environmental and Reproductive Justice Conference may sound like a natural hair symposium but is actually an annual national women’s conference that uses Black hair politics as the entry point for discussion on empowerment and activism.

Co-founded in Pittsburgh by West Philadelphia native La’Tasha D. Mayes, the conference is organized annually by New Voices, a “human rights organization focused on reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, health care access, ending gender-based violence, incarceration, environmental justice and integrated voter engagement.”

Mayes explained that the goal of the three-day conference is to engage Black women and girls in community organizing for lasting social change while celebrating intersectionality.

“That is why intersectionality is so important to our work,” said Mayes, the New Voices founder and executive director. “You can’t look at a Black woman or a Black person and only talk about one thing. No! These things are impacting me as a Black person and a woman and are impacting me at the same time and in different ways and different times. The intersectionality, to me, gets us to greater, more impactful solutions for the long-term. It’s not just a change in policy, but about uprooting systematic race and gender oppression. That’s the difference in our work: we are confronting systems of oppression in our work and creating spaces for those who are vulnerable and marginalized.”

The Kinks, Locks & Twists Conference is presented by New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a grass-roots human rights organization founded in 2004 by Mayes, Bekezela Mguni, Lois “Toni” McClendon and Maria Nicole (Smith) Dautruche. Initially produced in 2010 as a HERStory Month signature event, the Conference began with an analysis of the politics of Black hair, and soon broadened its focus to environmental and reproductive justice.

“We are a reproductive justice organization,” said Mayes. “Our definition of reproductive justice is the right to control your body. When we get into it more deeply, it is about the human right to control your body, sexuality, gender, work, reproduction and ability to form a family.”

According to a timeline provided by the organization, it grew steadily and now focuses on several priority issues. The…

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