By Sebastian Moronta Blanco, Staff Writer
On Tuesday, March 28, the Library Grand Reading Room hosted long-time human rights activist and author Loretta Ross, in a speaking engagement to close out the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality’s month long observation of Women’s History Month. She was introduced by Dr. Juli Parker, Assistant Dean of Students and Director for the center, who helped coordinate the event.
Ross has an accomplished and vibrant history as a human rights activist, beginning over 40 years ago when she was one of the first African American women to direct a rape crisis center in the 1970’s.
Since then, she has launched various programs, initiatives, and organizations to promote justice and give opportunities to women, with an emphasis on low-income women of color, including fighting sterilization, abuse, and violence against women in urban areas.
She co-directed the April 25, 2005 March for Women’s Lives, who some have reported as the largest protest march in U.S. history, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to 1.15 million participants.
Ross herself spent little time on her personal history, however, saying “you can read that online,” instead focusing on reproductive justice in the “Age of Trump.”
“Everything changed for me on November 9…people gave Kellyanne Conway a lot of grief for her quote about ‘alternative facts’, but frankly, if you’re an indigenous person, an enslaved person, an undocumented immigrant to this country, America itself is an alternative fact. We can never lose sight of that.”
She has spent many years becoming an expert on white supremacy and combating hate groups, becoming involved with the National Anti-Klan Network and working with schools, universities, and communities to fight bigotry.
Since the 90’s, she has been traveling across the country and the world promoting reproductive justice. A term she helped coin in a hotel room with eleven other Black feminists in 1994 after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
She defines the framework of reproductive justice as “the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, and the right to parent the children we have in a safe and healthy environment.”
Following the conference in Cairo, Ross founded the National Center for Human Rights Education to better educate the public on the full scope of human rights that extends beyond the typical American’s understanding of the concept.
“Education is a human right…every western democracy has human rights education K-12, except the United States. You think there’s a relationship between what we’re not taught and what is going on in our country?”
Ross described in detail eight categories of human rights: civil, political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, developmental, and sexual rights. She described these as just the first eight of an ever-evolving set of rights “to which we are entitled to simply because we are human.” She also speculated that the next wing of human rights to be debated very shortly is digital human rights, which would govern our rights online.
She looks up to prominent human rights leaders in history, namely Dr. King. “Dr. Martin Luther King…in his last Sunday Sermon March 31, 1968 called on us to build a human rights movement, and I remember when I first heard that, in 1995, I thought ‘Well damn, everybody told me Dr. King had a dream nobody told me he had a plan.” The audience joined her in a laugh.
Ross has recently authored a book titled Reproductive Justice: An Introduction released in late February, and continues promoting, training, and educating the public on human rights well into her sixties, cementing her inclusion amongst the most dedicated and prolific human rights figures this country, and world, has ever seen.