by Leslie Fields-Cruz
Recently, my older sister shared with me the lyrics from Jazz Poet Gil Scott-Heron’s song, Winter in America. It’s a song everyone should listen to right now. He describes winter as a “season of frozen dreams and frozen nightmares … frozen progress and frozen ideas … frozen aspirations and inspirations.” Though he wrote and recorded the song in the early 1970s, it feels like democracy is, once again, “ragtime on the corner.” As always, its wavering status places a frigid and heavy burden on Black folks.
The impact that last week’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson will have on African American women and their families is seismic. Remember, the majority of Black people (56 percent) in this country live in southern states, where the end of Roe v Wade means abortions are now or will soon to be illegal.
Black women everywhere have abortions at disproportionately high rates, but this is especially true in the south. Southern women’s access to maternal healthcare is some of the worst in the nation. The SCOTUS ruling is anticipated to result in an alarming increase in maternal mortality rates, which for Black women in the south are already disproportionately high.
It is tempting to just fall to our knees praying for better days. But in this democracy, action is how change happens. For Black storytellers, the call to action is urgent: Tell our people’s stories.
Powerful Black stories have always helped this nation to move forward. Last month, I recommended a series of films that deal with the issue of maternal health. Once again, I invite you to look at these pieces and ask, what other stories can we tell?
In 2020, BPM’s 360 Incubator+ program included a filmmaking team whose project, Listen to Me, features Black women sharing heart-wrenching tales of dealing with the U.S. healthcare system. The specific focus of the project was maternal health. That film is due out next year and we look forward to promoting it. You can listen to one of the filmmakers, Stephanie Etienne, describe it here.
The range of Black stories on this issue (and several others) has never been broad enough in public or commercial media. When is the last time you saw a documentary that addressed how the anti-abortion movement has hurt Black healthcare providers? Or films about the state of sex education and reproductive health in public schools that serve Black students? Or, for that matter, the staggering failure rate of abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs? And why are there so many unintended pregnancies in Black communities? Afterall, high, unintended pregnancy rates in ANY community are a sign that something is deeply wrong.
It may be winter in America right now, but seasons change. At BPM, we’re focused on prepping the soil for bountiful harvests year-round. A few weeks ago, we announced our Rolling Call, which invites finished feature and short films for consideration in Season 15 of our acclaimed AfroPoP series. This month, we opened submissions for two residencies — our MIT & BPM Visiting Artists program, and the new BPM Residency at the University of Nebraska’s Carson Center. These residencies are open to artists and creative technologists seeking to strengthen their skill set in XR storytelling. And later this summer, we’ll invite submissions for media makers to participate in our 360 Incubator+ program.
If you are a media storyteller, understand that you are an essential worker in this fight. Americans need to hear your stories, so don’t hesitate to apply for these opportunities.
If you are a funder who shares our interest in expanding Black voices in public media, let’s talk about how you can help.
If you are a public media programmer, don’t hesitate to consult us about Black media stories you might distribute.
And if you are someone who simply wants to see more Black stories on the issues you care about, let your public media stations know.
We all know someone who has been touched by abortion. Most women who have abortions already have children, yet most of their stories have never been told. As public media makers, we can and must arm public policy makers with the stories they need to create sound public policy. Together, let’s make this the shortest winter in American history.
— Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media