Family As The Center: Forward Together Moves Across Issues
Policy change, culture shift, and movement building for women, children, and families… these are just a few key actions Forward Together takes in their intersectional race, gender, and sexuality work. They represent marginalized families through cross-issue programs throughout the nation. Forward Together aims to create conditions that reflect the multi-dimensional reality of families today. Many households no longer hold the “nuclear family” structure, as a result policies and culture should reflect the varying landscapes of American families, especially families from marginalized populations. Using partnerships, collaborations, and campaigns, Forward Together’s multi-issue model brings together community and civic organizations to strengthen grassroots movement building.
In addition to their grassroots work, Forward Together has been using research and analysis to move policy in 2016. Their Strong Families Program in New Mexico is a state-based program that “works to shift culture and create new policies that recognize the many kinds of families in our state” (Strong Families website). A community movement, Strong Families, is the epitome of Forward Together’s holistic approach to oppression and combating its effects on the family. While it is vital to provide services for children and families, it is also imperative to create institutional change that will eliminate the barriers and bias to supporting all types of families.
Another compelling example of Forward Together’s family-centered programs is their Mama’s Day cards. Every year, Forward Together partners with local artists to produce Mama’s Day cards that represent the mama’s in the communities of the people they work with–the mothers who aren’t reflected in Hallmark cards. These cards feature local art as well as messages about “mamas” as the center and chain holding the family together, which is true of mothers in many cultures. The Mama’s Day cards are one way Forward Together hopes to shift the narrative around families, which in many ways is oppressive to and makes invisible the myriad of LGTBQ families and families of color in the United States.
Forward Together comes from the field of reproductive justice, which is already a very “holistic movement,” Eveline Shen, current Executive Director, says. Coming from a reproductive justice perspective Forward Together expands their reach to include all the ways women, children, and families are impacted as a result of the marginalization and oppression women of color face. When thinking about issues of reproductive health, women’s incarceration, immigration, and resources–Forward Together recognized the family as the piece most affected–connecting all the above issues. This is why Forward Together is not a single-issue organization. They believe all of the aforementioned issues are connected and impact the family in significant ways. Using the family, and women, as the central theme from which to “interrogate cultural values in our society” (Eveline Shen, 2015), Forward Together is explicitly multi-issue oriented to address the root causes and effects of oppression.
Leveraging multiple views and voices, cultivating partnerships, and movement building are the ways Forward Together is a catalyst for social change. As leaders in the reproductive justice and race-based movements, their work is transforming culture and policy to ensure a more progressive and inclusive society for our women and families. As they expand the Strong Families program to other states across the nation, continue their Mama’s Day cards, and keep amplifying Black women’s voices through Echoing Aida, Forward Together has successfully established a holistic approach to family-centric justice.
TWI supports Forward Together for several reasons, including: 1) We appreciate their keen analysis that it will require cross cultural, multi-issue, and multidimensional approaches to bring about lasting social, political, and economic change, 2) their approach to partnership and coalition work aligns with TWI’s core values of relationship, dialogue, and equity, and 3) we are invested in learning from their practice how to build networks around shared values (like “strong families”) across difference. Additionally, Forward Together is an organization that supports emergent racial justice movement building, while remaining focused and integrating that work into their long-term goals and programs.