Kelly Davis’ passion for advocacy stems from when she was a child and her mother, a nurse, lost a baby very late into her pregnancy. 

“I realized that was not the natural order of things and I saw that tore my family apart, even to this day,” she said. “Despite the fact that it was over 30 years ago, it’s something that weighs heavily on my mother’s mind.” 

She has made it her mission to educate herself and others on reproductive issues. 

“I’ve dedicated my life to understanding why even when no risk factors are present and a person is in good health and has good medical care that you can still wind up losing your life in pregnancy and the life of your child. Based on the scientific research, the answers are clearly structural racism,” she said. 

Davis is the executive director at New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a nonprofit organization that serves Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland. The aim of the organization is to prioritize the health and wellness of Black women and girls by fostering leadership development and advocating for reproductive justice and human rights. 

Davis took over the position from co-founder La’Tasha D. Mayes in February. Mayes has thrown her hat in the political ring by running to be a state representative for Pittsburgh’s northeast and Wilkinsburg. The midterm elections are Nov. 8, and reproductive rights have been central issues. 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Davis and New Voices have responded to the need for reproductive assistance by providing grants to aid abortion services and people who need to travel for services. The support has helped those in need pay rent or access mental health services.

Davis is six months into her position and shared what led her to this position, what she has accomplished thus far and what her goals are for the future of this organization. 

Black-led and prepared to stand up

New Voices’ strategy “focuses on building power within Black women and queer folks in service of the health and well-being of Black women and queer folks,” Davis said. 

“New Voices is uniquely positioned to do that because we are the first and only Black-led reproductive justice organization in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Last year, New Voices created the #SayHERName Justice Fund, which Davis said provides “life-saving mutual aid in the form of very low challenge grants to Black women, families and girls who have experienced all the different forms of violence — gun violence, interpersonal violence, state-sanctioned violence, including abortion restrictions.” Low challenge grants are simple to apply for, and recipients are not required to report how the funds are used.

Born on the West Coast and now living in Philadelphia, Davis splits her time among the cities New Voices serves. She brings many years of experience in the reproductive justice arena, including working over nine years for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, up to being the director of the equity and innovation unit. Her most recent roles include working as the chief of birth equity innovation for the National Birth Equity Collaborative, a public policy office in New Orleans. 

Kelly Davis, the executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, talks as part of a panel during Netroots Nation Women’s Pre-Conference on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at The Art Room in the Strip District. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Davis is the co-founder and CEO of Kinshift, a project that works to provide customizable training and solutions for those in health care and community spaces as it relates to preventing racism and trauma and promoting health equity for people of color and LGBTQ+ communities. 

She has both short- and long-term goals for New Voices. Her long-term goal is to “work ourselves out of business,” meaning “if we’re successful in achieving our mission, there will be no more reproductive coercion. … There won’t be a need for nonprofits like ours to fight for that to be reality.”

Her short-term goal is educating groups — specifically Black women and the LGBTQ+ community.  

She said New Voices is trying to help those populations understand how Black health and well-being may be affected by the outcome of the midterm elections.

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She credits fate for her current role at the nonprofit. 

“I like to say I didn’t find this job, this job found me,” Davis said. “During the last two and a half years, I’ve done a lot of reflection, and I’ve had to think about where my gifts are needed. This opportunity to helm an organization led by Black people for Black people has been a truly transformative experience. After years in government and other kinds of settings, I think I needed that to support me and my leadership.”

Davis is committed to going where the challenges are greatest and doing whatever it takes to achieve equality for people of color.  

“I really am dedicated to achieving liberation in our lifetime,” she said. “I think it can be done, and we will use whatever resources are at our disposal to make that a reality for everyone, but especially Black folks living in Pennsylvania.”

Emily Sauchelli is a PublicSource editorial intern. She can be reached at emilys@publicsource.org

This story was fact-checked by Rich Lord.

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Emily Sauchelli is an editorial intern at PublicSource. She is a graduate student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, where she is studying health and science and visual...