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I Don’t Have to Do Everything: Shayla Walker of Our Justice 

In our series In Rest We Trust, we talk with three community partner leaders about the origin stories that led to their life’s passions and organizations, what they’re doing to ensure they and their teams rest, and why rest is necessary for sustaining the long game of a more gender-just world.

“The question should be what don’t I do? I do everything from reaching out to folks about abortion funds, connecting and hearing their stories, finding them resources, getting them money to helping them navigate their travel for safe access. And I do payroll, health insurance, etc. for my team while going on speaking tours on reproductive justice. I’m mutual aid personified.”  

-Shayla Walker, Executive Director of Our Justice

Since she was 11, Shayla Walker was a part of social justice movements. But it wasn’t until she was in college that she first heard about reproductive justice and became more curious about feminism, especially Black feminism, where she would eventually find her political home. “I said to myself, ‘why is this key piece of history and such a transformative framework missing from the larger social justice conversations, the larger racial justice conversations?’ Lots of folks in our community are rejecting feminism because they see it as something that is really centered around white women. It’s more than just pro-life vs. pro-choice. It’s a whole framework that acknowledges our experience of not being able to care for our families the way that anybody with bodily autonomy should be able to care for their families.”

In these transformative spaces, she learned reproductive justice is for everybody, all the bodies, and is inclusive of access to care and rest. “Once Roe fell, we went through our list, closed our computers, responded in a way that was impactful for our communities, and rested.”

As executive director, Shayla emphasizes that Our Justice helps anyone who reaches out, which means being a safe haven for surrounding states like Wisconsin and Iowa, and also Texas and Florida. Founded in 1967 by a small group of doctors, clergy, and community members to assist Minnesota women in accessing abortion care – Our Justice has always worked to provide people with the resources they need now, while also advocating for policy change that would make these resources more available and remove many of these challenges altogether.

Our Justice understands the intersectionality of having access and resources to make sexual and reproductive health decisions. Through a multi-prong approach centering mutual aid and partnering with groups doing harm reduction and helping families in need, Our Justice redistributes resources to make reproductive healthcare more accessible and sustained. It’s more than abortion, says Shayla. It’s a world where communities are able to easily walk their dog anywhere, drop off their kids for childcare, get clean water, and get abortion without barriers in the way. Through Our Justice, that’s what giving back to the community looks like for Shayla.  

What does the world look like when Our Justice’s mission is realized?

A world where folks can get their abortion, use their health insurance, and don’t have to jump through hoops. People can get accurate information about abortion and be happy sustaining their lives.

A story about their life-changing work:

Before Go Fund Me, we were the original go-fund-me. Our Justice provides volunteer stipends for low-income, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ community members who want to give back to their community but not might have the means to. These stipends are life-changing for the community and so is providing direct cash for people’s healthcare. Abortion partners are now doing fundraising for trans-affirming care. Our Justice was started by folks who were neighbors, clergy, and medical providers, who wanted to make sure abortion access was secure and solid. Three years ago, I had a patient go through multiple providers before they got to us for help. It’s why we’re focused on Medicaid reimbursements because clinics aren’t getting their money and are fronting the costs. Without the work around Medicaid patients, patients like that wouldn’t be able to be seen. Our impact is really making sure our ecosystem is set up in a way that’s sustainable. 

Shayla Walker

On activating hope for themselves and their team:

There’s the myth that rest has to be earned and the level of output that’s expected out of all of us. Rest is part of our practice at Our Justice. We make sure the team is taking care of themselves, so we aren’t moving at a pace of urgency that doesn’t align with our goals. We can’t be empathetic when we’re running on empty. We see the strikes happening with the nurses and teachers and actors. If there’s no time for rest, joy, and play – why should it have to feel heavy?  

The story they want to see changed:

I wish for less stigma. It would be helpful to do work without stigmatizing healthcare. I want people to lean more into bodily autonomy and making connections for folks that you don’t think would be with you and drawing those connections. There’s trauma that people endure just from accessing healthcare, so healing should be centered.  

A leadership lesson:

That I don’t have to do everything, even though I’ve been conditioned to think that. I’m also learning not to be afraid to lean into my own knowledge, experience, and expertise. That I don’t have to look for outside validation and I can put my own flavor on it. There were challenges of feeling inadequate, that when something’s unfamiliar and I’m sitting with people who know all the things, it’s OK to continue to remind myself that I have the experience, I deserve to be here just as much as everyone else.  

Why rest is necessary:

I don’t want to feel guilty when taking time off and trusting my team and making sure my team doesn’t feel bad or guilty for taking time off either. I also celebrate people for caring for themselves. You can only self-care so much, when you need your community to care for you, too. 

What does rest and well-being look like for you?

Naps. My dream is to open up a retreat center and get paid for resting. There are so many incredible people in social justice movements that have been burnt out. If they can go there for a week or month and know they will be taken care of, that would be it. I see myself as an extension of my community. I want to make sure everyone is taken care of. Even the people running abortion funds, and people getting abortions, so they have a place to go heal and rest, and if they have children, for them to be taken care of.  

Why invest in rest?

Why not? We’re doing so much work. Rest should be supported. All this work we do, at the basis of reproductive justice, is empathy. I saw someone who wasn’t able to get their abortion and then they really struggled and that was really messed up. Even though that wasn’t my experience, I can empathize. For various reasons, having that empathy for those situations takes a lot of energy. In our society, we are not set up to recognize and really value the energetic work that it takes to be in this type of work. We just started talking about mental health, and we haven’t talked about spirituality. Seeing case after case of people not being able to get their needs met is really hard. To recover from that and continue to build community from that is important. I don’t want folks coming after me seeing the burnout and not being taken care of and then ultimately choosing not to do this work.  

By Chanida Phaengdara Potter, former Vice President of Strategic Communications & Narrative Change

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