A photo of five women smiling

Professor Jallicia Jolly (center) with  the inaugural members of the BREHA Collective, from left: Ash Smith ’18, Talia Ward ’23, Fiona Yohannes ’25 and Isabella Ahmad ’25.

A new program by Jallicia Jolly, assistant professor of American studies and Black studies, is “a labor of love in the making,” she said at a May panel discussion inaugurating the project. It’s the Black Feminist Reproductive Justice, Equity & HIV/AIDS  Activism Collective, known as BREHA. In launching and leading it, with financial support from the Office of the Provost and the Gregory S. Call Academic Internship program, Jolly is creating a hub for Amherst students interested in the study and practice of reproductive justice. 

“Black women, Indigenous women, women of color have to fight not only for abortion rights, but, importantly, for the access to bodily autonomy,” Jolly says, citing the foundational work of Dorothy E. Roberts and Loretta J. Ross. Reproductive justice, she says, requires addressing disparities in health care and realizing “the right to have children and to raise them with dignity in a safe, healthy and supportive environment and communities.”

Jolly has long worked with HIV/AIDS activist organizations in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Detroit; and Jamaica. Her extensive scholarship focuses largely on the lived experiences of HIV-positive African American and Caribbean women. “Even though Black women have been at the heart of the struggle against reproductive injustices and HIV inequities, they remain excluded and deprioritized in HIV research, clinical trials and public health interventions,” she says. In fact, Black women in the  United States are about 15 times more likely to die of AIDS than are white women, according to the CDC.

The inaugural members of the BREHA Collective are Ash Smith ’18, Talia Ward ’23, Fiona Yohannes ’25 and Isabella Ahmad ’25. Each spent the summer doing research. For example, with assistance from BREHA summer intern Victoria Thomas ’25 and College librarians Stephanie Capsuto and Alana Kumbier, Smith worked to co-develop a database that “maps Black women’s experiences of reproductive injustice across time and space,” he says, “not only to document moments of harm but also to illuminate how Black women’s critical responses to oppression unfolded generationally and geographically.” As part of this work, Smith analyzed the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper’s coverage of the first 20 years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and delved into a digital archive from the University of the West Indies called “Making of Feminisms in the Caribbean.” 

Meanwhile, Ahmad built upon Jolly’s 2021 interviews with leaders and participants in the Imbokodo HIV vaccine trial conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa “trying to find follow-up questions and gauge themes for  further research.” Ahmad—a certified birth doula—also teamed up with the Boston area’s Lucy Parsons Center and Birth Equity & Justice Massachusetts to solicit help and supplies for Haitian and Latine migrant families in Taunton, Mass.

BREHA’s overarching goal, says Jolly, is “knowledge production and research-informed political action that is accessible to communities inside and outside of academia.” Or, as Smith puts it: “It matters to me that my work is meaningful and has some kind of impact.”

Photograph by Jesse Gwilliam