Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong in Altanta, Georgia, for Prism's One year post-Roe series
Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong / Designed by Lara Witt

One year post-Roe is an as-told-to series led by Prism’s Editor-at-Large Tina Vásquez, marking the milestone by featuring new and veteran advocates and organizers, abortion storytellers, providers, clinic directors, abortion fund volunteers, and reproductive justice organizers. You can read the complete series here

Monica Simpson needs little introduction. 

Before she was catapulted onto the national stage when Time magazine named her one of the most influential people of 2023, Simpson was already venerated as the game-changing executive director of the foundational reproductive justice organization, SisterSong. Based in Atlanta, the Black women-led, national multiethnic, multicultural collective was formed in 1997 and shaped the framework that sparked a nationwide reproductive justice (RJ) movement. Simpson first joined SisterSong in 2010 as the organization’s development coordinator, moving her way up to executive director in 2013. 

Simpson told Prism she didn’t come into RJ work as a policy wonk; she brought years of creative and grassroots organizing experience to SisterSong. Her background as a cultural strategist continues to shape SisterSong’s work in intriguing and unprecedented ways. Since 2019, the Southern-based national RJ organization has fought Georgia’s six-week abortion ban as the lead plaintiff in the ongoing court case, but a primary focus continues to be culture-shift work. From a new vision for reproductive justice and the Trust Black Women Universe created for the Essence Festival of Culture, the largest Black-led and attended event in the country, to this summer’s reproductive justice bus tour that organized a series of educational gatherings across the rural South—SisterSong continues to create innovative ways to reach new audiences. 

During a recent phone call, Simpson spoke to Prism about the goal of SisterSong’s cultural organizing, how the South continues to shape the rest of the country, and why she remains hopeful—despite all of the reasons not to be. Here she is, in her own words: 

I don’t want to downplay the severity of this moment. SisterSong was created to be a powerful BIPOC collective ready to organize and respond to moments such as this. Our communities—Black folk, Indigenous folk, people of color—have unfortunately always had to live in a world where we are constantly worried about our safety or ability to make decisions about our own lives. That is something we’ve always had to contend with. So for me, as a leader, I can’t lean into the fear. I lean into the resistance. 

When I first came into leadership of this organization, I felt the need to pattern myself after other leaders I’d seen who were very much focused on creating theory and advancing policy. That work is critical. I was able to discover that my strength lies in leaning into creative and culture-change work. I have always been driven by creativity. To sustain any policy, we have to be able to think proactively and creatively about what our people need and what moves them to action.  

So much has been snatched away from us through the political system, and we have to think creatively about the new world that we need and how we get there. This is why our approach at SisterSong is really about deepening our culture-shift work. This is also how we are able to meet people where they are. It’s how we bring new people into the conversation, and it’s why we can organize and move people toward a new way of understanding and build the collective power necessary to win.

SisterSong was not created to be a direct services organization, but the current political climate has forced us to expand the ways we care for our communities because the needs of our people have really grown. Our Birth Justice Care Fund, which focuses on supporting pregnant people and their families, was our first program created to provide practical support to our communities in need. Whether providing baby supplies, support for doula care, or support for housing, it is clear that people have real, urgent needs that need to be met. 

We are stronger when we do not silo our work because white supremacy does not silo its attacks. 

For the first time in my career, there is a broad recognition that we cannot ignore the fight for bodily autonomy—something we have always known in the reproductive justice movement. Because of fear, stigma, and all of the other things that surround abortion—and, more broadly, sex—it’s been very difficult for some people to enter this work. But now, with the detrimental outcome of the Dobbs decision, along with increased police violence against our communities, anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the dire maternal mortality crisis in our country, we are really reckoning with our human right to bodily autonomy. SisterSong has, in turn, expanded our trainings, increased the direct services we provide, and leaned more heavily into culture-shifting work to grow our base. All of this goes back to demonstrating to our community how reproductive justice is connected to all facets of our lives. And we are stronger when we do not silo our work because white supremacy does not silo its attacks.  

The South has always very visibly put on the map that what we’re fighting is white supremacist, patriarchal structures. The fight for abortion access is a fight against white supremacy. The fight for voting rights is a fight against white supremacy. The fight for queer and trans liberation is a fight against white supremacy. The bottom line is we must dismantle the system of white supremacy. 

I believe that those who are committed to upholding white supremacist culture are terrified of losing their power because they’ve never not had it. They are holding the strings of all of these systems of oppression to their benefit. And it’s those of us who have been historically pushed to the margins, those of us in the South in particular, who are forced to endure the brutality of it all. They keep the South in their crosshairs, and it’s exhausting. 

The opposition intentionally drives misinformation to divide us. We work to disrupt this, in large part, through culture-change work. We are focused on meeting people where they are and on finding innovative ways to educate them about reproductive justice. They may not be reading results from a recent scientific study, but they are on social media, watching TV shows, and buying from their favorite brands. So, we’ve been working across industries and with influencers who have grabbed the public’s attention and who have garnered trust in their messages and brands. People will more likely stumble across a video from a content creator than they would something from the World Health Organization. 

As I gain more visibility for doing this work and talking about very controversial topics, of course I think about my own safety. I’m a Black queer woman who leads an organization that focuses on some of the most stigmatized issues of the day—and I’m based in the South. Security has become a very big part of our internal infrastructure. The stakes are high for leaders in the reproductive justice and abortion rights movements—and we have to take this seriously. 

With all that being said, people might be surprised to hear that I’m actually extremely hopeful. As a creative, I live by Nina Simone’s quote, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” That is exactly what I plan to do as a leader. We didn’t want Dobbs to play out how it did, and we certainly didn’t need the protections that Roe did afford us to disappear. Yet this political moment, although hard, is an opportunity to center the reproductive justice movement and framework—and that is just what we’re doing. 

Reproductive justice is focused on liberation. Every day, I believe we are getting closer to understanding how my liberation is tied to yours and how your liberation is connected to the person beside you. Understanding that is what gets me through. If we lead with this, the power of the people will always prevail. 

Tina Vásquez is the editor-at-large at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers' rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.