Current manager of Local Initiatives at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Jenny Mistry is an advocate for civil rights and social action and has done a lot of work for reproductive justice. She grew up in New Jersey where she co-founded and is currently president of NJ SEEDS Alumni Alliance, which offers social, volunteer, and networking opportunities for current and former associates of NJ SEEDS. In 2011, she received her MPH in Public Health from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Mistry currently lives in New York where she is the co-chair of the Pro-Choice Network for WIN-NYC. The organization is dedicated to empowering young, pro-choice, Democratic women. Take Root had a chance to interview her and share some of her ideas with you.
Take Root: How did you get started in your activism?
Jenny Mistry: I grew up in a family of strong women and very few men; so I think I was always naturally in a feminist frame of mind. I was lucky enough to grow up in New Jersey, where I had access to a lot of opportunity. For instance, I went to Planned Parenthood in high school, where I got Plan B for myself or for friends, and this was before it was over the counter. Then, I went to college at the University of Michigan and took a Women’s Studies class there. And, for whatever reason, I chose to do my project on reproductive rights and interviewed someone who worked at the Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor. I learned about all the barriers to access that people in Michigan faced and how different it was from my experience in New Jersey. If I had grown up in Michigan instead of growing up in New Jersey, what might have happened to me and my friends? It was a turning point for me. Then I worked in educational access after college for a program that I had benefitted from as a low income student. So many of my friends didn’t go to college. It made me realize how uneven the playing field is, and it became something that I felt like I had to be a part of. I’ve been lucky enough to find opportunities and be in the right place at the right time to be able to do some really needed work as a volunteer and, of course, in my career.
Take Root: How did you get involved with the National Institute for Reproductive Health?
JM: In college I interned with NARAL Pro-Choice New Jersey and with the Planned Parenthood Association of the Mercer area in Trenton, New Jersey. Through that I met some people that were involved with reproductive justice in New Jersey, and I give a lot of credit to my boss at the time, Jennifer Miller, who took me to every coalition meeting that she was in. After college, I really wanted to get back into healthcare and wasn’t necessarily looking to get back into reproductive rights, so I pursued my Master’s in Public Health. I knew that while I remained an active volunteer with that educational program, I really wanted to get back into health. So that seemed like a good way to pivot. During my Master’s, I needed to a summer internship. The first person I thought of was Kelly, who I had met when I was interning in New Jersey. When I reached out to her, she had moved jobs and was at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. It was like a dream job for me. I loved their mission, so I was really excited to come in as an intern. It’s been 4 years since then.
Take Root: What gave you the idea to start the trending Tumblr topic, “Abortion Looks Like…”?
JM: I am the co-chair of the Pro-Choice Network for WIN-NYC, which is a women’s networking group. I lead along with a woman named Nadia Chait, and we have done lots of different projects through WIN. We took inspiration from the ‘Post Secret’ project, knowing it is a powerful way to tell stories. We wanted to use art to challenge abortion stigmas, and we knew that abortion stories were one of the most powerful ways to help people rethink abortion or challenge their own assumptions about abortion and who gets an abortion. Neither of us are artists, but we knew that art was powerful. So we thought, ‘How can we have a crowd-source art project?’ And Tumblr immediately came to mind. We loved it because it not only tells abortion stories in a new intriguing way, but also helps people process their own abortion stories or their own feelings about abortion in a new way.
Take Root: What can you tell us about your panel at Take Root?
Jenny Mistry: We are going to be talking about local level advocacy for reproductive health, rights, and justice. I have been working with partners across the country on a local level to come up with creative ways to advance reproductive justice. Unfortunately, on the state level, it is so hard to do anything proactive. We can’t take our eye off the ball. There have been incredible efforts happening on the state level in the past two years to start shifting that dialogue, but we see areas of opportunity on the local level are often missed because we are focused on the state level. We are excited to talk with everyone at the conference about the ways that, even in a conservative state, you might be able to have some wins on a local level. I think it’s important not just for building the proactive movement, but also, being able to achieve a win feeds your soul. We’ll be hearing from people that are building a proactive movement, city by city in North Dakota, and from someone who’s working to change the conversation in Dallas on abortion through political action and art, and my partner in all of the work to fight on the local level and her experiences. It’s exciting; concrete tools and concrete strategies that people can take home and real life experiences of people who have done this in a red state and the barriers and successes that they’ve had.
We’re very excited to hear Jenny speak at #TakeRoot16!
*Interview edited for clarity and length
Follow the links for more in our 2016 Speaker Series: