As a black woman, Kara James learned how to advocate for herself at a young age. She grew up in Carson, California and was forced to move out of her mother’s house when she was in high school because her mother didn’t have enough money to take care of her. She moved in with family in New Orleans and began work towards a career in nursing. Now, she’s looking to empower other black women as a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood.
“I know what it’s like being from the hood, I know what it’s like living in a motel. I know what it’s like when someone tells you can’t do something,” James said. “So, all those experiences are what creates my passion, my perseverance.”
After leaving home, James graduated from college and started a family, which eventually led her back to California to the Planned Parenthood in Inglewood. She got a job at the facility just a few months before the death of George Floyd, which set off a wave of protests across the country and a racial reckoning within many established institutions.
Planned Parenthood sent out a company-wide statement to decry systemic racism. But James wanted the organization to take action considering black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women and black children are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white kids.
“I responded to the email. I had only been at Planned Parenthood for six months,” she said. “Most folks would’ve thought ‘Oh, I’m gonna get fired, I wouldn’t send that email out.’ But I sent that email.”
To her surprise, Planned Parenthood wrote back.
“They wanted to meet with me. And so, when it was time to meet, I had a whole PowerPoint presentation and a plan, delineating what I thought the Black Health Initiative needed to be,” James explained.
The organization has a wide range of medical services and resources in place, but it was looking to use them to promote racial equality.
That’s where James came in. She helped open the organization’s Black Health Initiative in Los Angeles last spring. “We offer behavioral services, so to have a behavioral health therapist in the clinic, that’s groundbreaking,” James said. “We offer prenatal services. We’ll soon have doula care.”
The center combines education, preventative care, and community under one roof. Its aim is “to address health inequities in black communities by providing high-quality healthcare and education with a culturally specific lens, extending resources, and forming partnerships within the community,” according to the website.
The L.A. location is considered the flagship location of the Black Health Initiative, which is currently being implemented throughout the organization.
“Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles’ Black Health Initiative offers an affirmative vision for what sexual and reproductive health care should look like, and that vision is particularly heartening and sorely needed at this moment when we risk losing freedom over our own bodies,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).
Natasha Rothwell, a writer and actress from the hit show “Insecure” even stopped by to lend her support. “The work that Planned Parenthood Los Angeles is embarking on with its Black Health Initiative is more critical than ever,” she said. “With the threats to reproductive health care, access to abortion, and Black maternal health care, the direct impact of this initiative on the Black community is key to helping overcome the critical challenges facing black women today.”
As for James, she’s just getting started.