Bambi Gaddist

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Interviewee: Bambi Gaddist

Interviewer: Andrea L’Hommedieu

Date: June 13, 2019

Accession #: SWW 016

Length of Recording: 01:48:44

Sound Recording

 

Summary

Bambi (Ware) Gaddist was born in Rome, New York in 1955 and moved to South Carolina in her twenties to teach physical education in Orangeburg. As a child, she lived in Syracuse, New York and South Jersey. Interview includes discussion of her family’s roots in Rhode Island and South Carolina, her memories of being raised largely by her father, her family’s experience as one of the few Black families in a predominantly white town, racism in the North generally, and her higher education at Tuskegee University and Indiana University. In the mid-1980s, Gaddist began work on her doctorate in Public Health at the University of South Carolina. After earning her degree, she worked on Comprehensive School Health programs for the SC Department of Education, including sexual education. Interview includes discussion of Gaddist’s struggles to advance sexual education in schools in the conservative South and how she left the Department of Education. In 1994, Gaddist formed the African American HIV/AIDS Council, now the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council. Gaddist recalled how she established the HIV/AIDS Council and she described the evolution of their work to destigmatize HIV/AIDS, offer testing and counseling, and work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

 

Keywords

Activists | Columbia, SC | Indiana University | Public Health | Rome, NY | Sexual Education | South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council | South Jersey | Tuskegee University | University of South Carolina | Women of Color and Health

 

Transcript

Andrea L’Hommedieu: This is an interview for the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina for the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement Oral History Project. The date is June 13th, 2019. This is Andrea L’Hommedieu and today I’m at the library with Dr. Bambi Gaddist and a graduate student, Jillian Hinderliter. Dr. Gaddist, could you start just by giving me your full name?

Bambi Gaddist: Well actually my full name is Bambi Octavia. My middle name is a reflection of my grandmother who, that was her name, she gave me my name, Bambi. So Gaddist is my married name. My original birth name was Bambi Octavia Ware, W-A-R-E, that was my father’s name.

AL: And Gaddist is G-A-D-D-I-S-T?

BG: Yes. No H, I’m not sure where people get the H from but it’s G-A-D-D-I-S-T.

AL: And where and when were you born?

BG: Let’s see, I’ll celebrate 64 years in September. I was born in 1955, actually born in Upstate New York, in Rome, New York. I lived in Syracuse for a while. My father and mother had a tenuous marriage and we subsequently – well, let’s just say, there was a time in America where you could take your children and custody was 9/10th of the law, and so my mother took us first and moved us out of Syracuse where we were. My dad worked for the Corps of Engineers and while he was on a trip she took us and when he returned and found out that we were missing he found us and reclaimed us. And so he moved us to New Jersey and so that is where I was raised from the age of, I’ll say around eight. My older sister was, and I may have the ages off a little bit, maybe I was closer to six.

AL: You had siblings…

BG: Seven, something like that, but I had a sister who’s six years younger than me so whatever that timeframe is, she may have been one. But I was around six or seven and my oldest sister was around eight, 10 or so, so we were children. And so he moved us to New Jersey. So he was a single man raising three girls, had befriended a man, a white gentleman, by the name of Mr. Weinings (03:15), he and his wife had moved to New Jersey, my dad stayed in contact with him. So when he took us where they lived. We actually stayed with them as children for, I don’t remember how long we stayed but in a way they were surrogate parents because my dad was single, he needed to work. He was in construction, he finished Hampton University which is a Historically Black College in Virginia. So he had a degree in constructional engineering, and so he needed to work so we would stay with them until he found a place for us to be and those kinds of things.

AL: And what was that like living in New Jersey?

BG: You know how children are, I mean, personally I didn’t put it in the context of how children see things now because they are exposed to so much, but back then, that was in the ‘60s, ‘50s, ‘60s, so all I knew was they didn’t get along. I remember seeing some things that would indicate to me as a child that they didn’t get along. I don’t recall have a certain allegiance to either one, but I was one of those kids where as long as I was getting fed and I’m good. So whoever wants me, or whoever wants us, okay.

So I don’t recall any negative things, all I remembered about my mother was the positive things. I remember she used to bake a lot, and I baked, I bake now. I remember that she was not a boisterous, I remember she listened to symphony music a lot so she would listen to what I now know as, like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and other kinds of musicians. So she liked classical music because she played it in the house. Her father took her to Broadway, she was a dancer as a girl. She had opportunities to dance but her parents would not allow her to. But he took her to see classical plays and things like that, so she had an eye for culture and a desire to pursue it. But back then black women really were not permitted to do but certain things, and the one thing that she wanted which was dance she was not permitted to leave the house to pursue that. She was a tap dancer. So she conceded I think to being a wife and being a mother. Her roots were Rhode Island, so her father, my grandfather, was the first black man to ever work in the front office of the Post Office in Providence. So –

AL: Did you know him at all?

BG: No, I never met him but I have photographs of him in my office. He was born in Charleston. His name was Joseph Genoa Ware. From what I now know of him he was a frail man, premature as we would probably call it, small enough to fit in a shoebox. And so he was not made physically to do fields to or do manual labor. Somewhere in his life a Jewish man discovered him because of some other talents he had and moved him, I believe, to Chicago where he taught him how to be a tailor. And so in the picture that I have in my office you’ll see him in a suit that he made. He was, that was his skillset, tailoring. He always presented a certain way and so I think it was probably that image that got him that position at the Post Office in Providence, which is where my mother was born.

His wife, my grandmother who named me, was the product of a white woman and a black man so this was what, in the teens, so we talk about adolescent pregnancy or whatever the case may be or biracial relationships, I mean, those are not new. So when she was born her mother could not or would not or wasn’t permitted to keep her so she put her in what was a Florence Crittenton Home, or in a home for unwed mothers. She had her and that’s where she stayed, so I understand that she was trained to be a cook and so, Octavia was her name. That’s where my middle name comes from. So that was her skillset. She was not a demonstrative woman, I did meet her, I did know her. During the time of her passing she asked for me, at that time she was in Topeka with my mother, she had separated obviously from my dad, but she was transitioning. And she asked for me, she specifically asked for me as I recall. So I flew out there to Topeka and soon after she passed on. So I did meet her, I never met my grandfather Joseph, but my brother is named after him. I’ve always wondered how he got the middle name Genoa, so that’s a question mark that I can’t answer. And my mother, who’s still living, is 97, she lives in Newberry.

AL: Newberry, South Carolina.

BG: Um-hum. She ended up marrying a man who was a pastor who at some point in my mother’s and father’s relationship was their spiritual counselor. He married her years after my parents separated. Of course, I’m not sure my dad appreciated it. As a grown woman I don’t think they had an affair. In retrospect when I look back I don’t think that that was the context of how they got together. I have my own hypothesis but, I think that he may have in fact cared for her but never acted on it until she was free and then it kind of probably evolved. So they ended up married to one another.

Well my dad never really talked about her when he raised us so he wasn’t really, as children, he never bashed her or talked negatively about her. But I think if he had any thoughts he revealed them more as we were older, not necessarily when we were children. So I didn’t see my mother again until I was grown. I don’t think it’s ironic, we talked about nine degrees of separation, it’s not where – we were end of South Jersey, I wear a size 12/13 shoe so we always had to go to Philadelphia to get shoes because no place in South Jersey where I grew up, Vineland, New Jersey, did they have shoes for big feet people. So he would take us to Philadelphia and we were literally driving down the street and I saw my sister.

Now I had an older sister, she left with my mother. She left with my mother. And I also had a brother but I didn’t know that I had a brother. My mother obviously was pregnant at the time that they separated. And my dad didn’t know he had a son either. How he found out was we literally were driving down the street in Philadelphia and saw her and we started screaming, “That’s, that’s our sister, stop the car, that’s her,” and she was shocked. We were kids so we were jumping up and down in the car. She was kind of off-putting, I think it was more related to the past but she was kind of off-putting, but that’s when we kind of reconnected, we knew that they were somewhere in the vicinity.

I don’t remember all the details but all I know is after we ran into them my mother sent my dad a picture and it was a picture of my brother. And he was a toddler, he was sitting all dressed up in a picture. And my dad lost it. He got in his car, the moment he saw the picture he got in his car and I think I’m confusing timelines but he went to find him. He showed up at her house and he wanted to see him. Of course one thing led to another and by the time he got back to Jersey the police were at our house and so he took my mom to court. He wanted to have some relationship with his son so he pursued it with a vengeance, not with a vengeance toward her but he was adamant that he was going to have a relationship with his son. And he was successful where he got visiting rights, so that’s when we really kind of started to come to terms with we had reconnected with our older sister, it was the three Ware girls, and then we knew we had a brother. 

And so we eventually came into a space where, so we’re all connected now. We’re all connected. My youngest sister who was the youngest has a strong relationship with my youngest brother because they spent time together in the house together when my brother started going through adolescent crap; my mother sent him to my dad. And he got him straight. So he and Jackie have, Joseph is his name, he’s the third, he has a strong relationship with my youngest sister. I was in the middle and then Prudence, you can tell that’s ancient like New England-ish. Octavia’s a New England name. Autress (15:49) is my older sister’s name, so she’s 72ish, Prudence is 66. I’ll be 64 in September, Jackie is 58, and then Joe is 54, I think. So that’s the constellation of things. So my dad was probably the one person that probably shaped who I am. I remember about my mom, and I have a relationship with my mom, but I can’t actually say she shaped, other than genetically and domestically, but intellectually or who I am as a woman, who I am as a black woman was probably more crafted by a man.

AL: And what did he teach you by example or?

BG: My dad was not demonstrative, he wasn’t a touchy, feely kind of guy but he was very methodical and in some cases military about the way he did things. So for example, he would write. He was a writer. His father was a writer. His father from what I know had a relationship with the governor of West Virginia which is where he’s from. His father was very much engrained in Veterans’ Affairs and things like that so he was appointed and did writing of some sort for the governor. And so he was a writer and my dad was a writer. He wrote things. So when he had three girls in the house alone he would write, so we all were trained by Pavlov’s dog, so we knew that when we got up out the bed there would be a note. It would outline who’s to do what, what he wanted done, what was for dinner, who was cooking it and that kind of thing. So we were kind of trained like that.

We were the Ware girls so we didn’t have a mama. He was a very handsome man, like if I show you his picture you’ll see what I mean, but he was very handsome and he had three girls and so a lot of women were attracted to him. So everybody wanted to be our mama, we were like, we don’t need another mama, we got enough mamas. (Laughter) So, he wasn’t a player, he said he was a virgin when he married so he would say, “I was a virgin when I married your mother.” I’m like, “Wow, that’s awesome, Bear.” We used to call him Bear. Well anyway, but he was very pig-headed, strong-headed. Right or wrong he used to say, “My word is my bond.” So whatever he said he was going to do he was going to do it, whether it was wrong or whether it was right, but if he made a commitment he was going to follow through with it. So he taught me that. I’m very much like that, if I say I’m going to do something I’m going to do it, even if I have to sacrifice something.

He took us to church. I can’t say he was hyper religious but he introduced us to the faith community early and I was raised in the AME church but because my mother was married to someone in the AME church my dad did have a period where his anger about him marrying my mother provoked him to go the bishop about their relationship or what he received to be that.  And so I believe, even as an adolescent I believed that him going was the reason why he never was appointed as a bishop. I know that was a pursuit of his but I believe that my father approaching prior authorities about that relationship impacted them appointing him. But that being said he was very guided in training us as girls, so he knew he did not have certain skill sets so he would, like put us in modeling class, which I hated. I was what they used to call a Tom boy so I played sports and that was my means out of the house, because he was very guided in where we could go, where we couldn’t go, who we could be with and who we couldn’t be with. We were like latchkey kids so we knew what the schedule was, what we were supposed to be doing, be home.

I grew up in a predominately white environment so, we were the only black family at an all-white United Methodist Church throughout my life, except when I was younger we went to the black church. But once my dad decided we were leaving the black church, he was a Gideon so he was in the United Methodist Church, we were in the MYF and all that stuff, we were expected to participate in activities, he put us in activities. But they were both, NAACP, they had youth group back then, he made sure we were in that. He would put black women in our presence. So, like our hair for example, he hired housekeepers, women that would come in the house, do our hair, make sure that we had structure or whatever. He was a construction person so he had a degree, when he first took us and when we first moved he worked with construction firms building things so he could build anything. Like he redid our upstairs, he built things. So he was eventually appointed as the housing inspector for the city where we lived and subsequently years later was appointed by the mayor as head of housing. So what that taught me was one, you should work towards something, that you should have a skill set and maximize on it, that you can be appointed to things.

But there’s a misnomer that racism doesn’t exist in the North. When I talk to people from the South they talk about how bad it was and I can affirm that, but they don’t know that in the North there was also its own unique set of behaviors and attitudes that played out, particularly for black people who had any authority. My dad really was one of the few black people where I grew up that had any authority or any positions of authority. So he took a lot of blows for that, a lot of attacks because of it. And because his basic concept was, help the least of these, he would make moves sometimes that were really more specific to the people he was serving or people that were working for him. And that didn’t always set well with authority so they were constantly pulling him in for something. Now that’s not to say my dad didn’t make some moves that were, like probably you shouldn’t have did that.

But he, as a black man that did some of the innovation that I saw, he built high rise apartments for seniors, he developed housing complexes for senior citizens that never existed in Vineland, New Jersey. He created programs for people who would never have owned a home. He built and created programs that would allow people to rent with the option to buy, to be homeowners. But he was also a stickler for order so if people were not keeping property up he’d put you out. So depending upon who he put out and how he put them out, but he would make us all line up on the couch and he’d say, “Look at the way these people tore up this house!” So he would show us, when he was housing inspector he’d make us look at the pictures and see how you’re supposed to take care of a house and all this crap, we’re like, we care. But, so he was a stickler and we all knew that. 

He never remembered our birthdays but for me that didn’t matter because I just said, “Give me some money, it’s my birthday.” So I was like the kid in the middle who kind of used sports to get in and out. My oldest sister probably took the brunt of his discipline because she looked like my mother and she has ways like my mother. So I do think it was very difficult for her being the older. And for my youngest sister she was more her mother, for Jackie, my sister Jackie so my oldest sister as her mother more than her sister. She saw me as the sister so she saw Prudence as her mother because she would run the house when my dad wasn’t there. So none of us got pregnant before we finished high school, all of us were known as the Ware girls. And I was joking with someone earlier, I said, “If boys would mess with me I would just say, ‘Look, I’m going to go get my daddy and he’ll handle you.’” So that was a source of comfort for me. My youngest sister probably faired the best with him because he was tired by the time he got to her so she got away with murder. He prepared her for marriage. I don’t think he thought I’d ever be married. And I’ve been married all of my life. I’ve been married since I was 23. And I’m 64, so. Not to the same person, however. But I do know what good men do. I do think my dad was a good man even though he was hard-headed. He was married three times. I won’t get all into that, but he was married three times.

AL: So after high school where did you go?

BG: I went to Tuskegee. I went to Tuskegee not because I just planned to go there, I went there because my uncle was the athletic director and I had already decided that physical education and health was going to be my major. I selected it because I knew I didn’t have to wear shoes every day. It was like, I was good at it, I was good at sports. I played sports through middle school all through high school, I played basketball on the high school basketball varsity team. I had a scholarship opportunity which I took. But what attracted me to Tuskegee, I never heard of black colleges when I went to Vineland High School. They didn’t have that conversation with us. So I think only one black college ever came to Vineland High to, you know, when they’re trying to recruit or whatever. And I almost went there, I said, well I need to get another environment, I need to leave, see something different. But he went for University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, my uncle, and by the time I was ready to go to college he was at Tuskegee. I never heard of it, I never saw the campus but I said, “Where is it?” And he said, “Alabama.” I said, “Well can my dad get in his car and, like drive down there, like overnight?” “No. Well no, not really.” I said, “I’ll go there.” (Laughter) I just wanted distance, I wanted to see what life was about in a different way so I ended up at 17, I was 17 when I went to college, and I went to Tuskegee.

So it was a culture shock. When the man came out the side with a mule and wagon, so this is ’73, 1973. Now that wasn’t the midst of it but Tuskegee is Tuskegee so the culture, the Tuskegee Airmen, all of that was there. And they had a School of Veterinary Medicine, because it was an industry…Booker T. Washington started Tuskegee, as he did Hampton. And so it was designed to be a space where black people could learn a trade, but they had these other things, and so Tuskegee Airmen, aviation. It’s probably one of the largest black colleges in the country. But the history of George Washington Carver who was a scientist and a researcher, did his work there so there was all these different elements to Tuskegee that I didn’t know of until I got on campus. As well as the Tuskegee syphilis studies, which they never talked about while I was there. I never heard about it until I left. So I went to Tuskegee. I played basketball. I played volleyball competitively. I got disinterested in it after a while, I decided I wanted to pledge so I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha which is my sorority, a/k/a Pink and Green.

AL: Is that something you stay close to all these years later, the sorority?

BG: No. I have sorors that are very close to me, matter of fact one of them is on my board, she pledged me. We were roommates at Tuskegee. So I don’t have a lot of friends, I have some girlfriends I’ve known for decades. So I’ve known Carol Wideman (32:04) for decades, she pledged me, she helped me get online. She’s a lawyer, retired, I don’t think she’ll ever retire, she’s not really retired, she still acts like a lawyer. But she and I still are friends, we talk often. I have Brenda, we went to IU together. When I left Tuskegee I went to Indiana University and got my Masters. I was what they call a grad student, I was associate instructor, that’s what they called it then. So I was hired to teach physical ed and, IU is a Big 10 PE school. So I applied, I was appointed as an associate instructor so I taught during the day, took classes, and then I took classes at night. Lived in my first, what do you call it, I don’t know what they call it now where males and females reside in the same – co-ed, yeah. I stayed in a co-ed dorm and so that was new. And I befriended a couple of young women, Jackie Smith whose in New York, Staten Island and Leslie, we were roommates, we ended up moving off campus. So I taught, I took classes and I was on a fast track so I finished my Master’s in a year and by ’78 I had finished IU.

And ended up hired, actually I bumped into this man in Kansas at a convention. All of us get in the car and go see if we can find a job. We knew we were finishing, we’re like, “Oh we’re going to go find a job.” And I didn’t get a lot of interviews but literally bumped into this black gentleman in a convention hall and I said, “I’m sorry.” He said he’s sorry and then he asked me who was I and told him and I asked him where he was from. He said South Carolina, I’m like, really? And South Carolina was an interest to me because my boyfriend, soon to be fiancé, soon to be husband, was from South Carolina. So I figured, wow that’s interesting. “So why are you here?” He said he was there to find a tennis instructor and that’s what I taught, I taught tennis and other racket sports and stuff. And so he said, “Where’d you go to school?” I said, “I went to Tuskegee.” And he said, “Tuskegee?!” He said, “Do you know Flash?” I said, “Flash? Who’s Flash? No, I don’t know anybody named Flash.” He said, “Howard Davis.” And I said, “Dr. Howard Davis?!” I said, “That’s my uncle.” He said, “We were roommates at Allen University.”

AL: No. Way.

BG: Yep, and we sat down, he interviewed me, we talked. It’s all about who you know and who you don’t know. Anyway, he interviewed me. I taught everything that he was looking for. I think the added was he knew my uncle who was at Tuskegee even at the time that I interviewed with Dr. Hunter, Dr. Milton Hunter. I went back to IU with my friends and classmates and finished out my last semester there. I graduated in August of ’78. And I didn’t have a job, I didn’t hear from Dr. Hunter. My husband, soon to be or fiancé or whatever he was then, boyfriend probably, came to pick me up to take me back to Jersey cause I didn’t have a job and I was like, I wasn’t going to go shack up with him so I’m like, let me go home, figure out what I’m going to do. And the day before I left for him to drive me to Jersey Dr. Hunter called me and offered me that job. And so I took all my stuff and moved to South Carolina and went to Orangeburg. I’m like, oh gosh, really? I had never been there, I never heard of the campus so I just said, hey it’s a job. How much you think I made? I made $12,000. I made $12,000 which was $1,000 more than my other classmates so I was rich. I had a car, I had a little apartment. So with $12,000 I had a life, just to show what inflation will do for you.

But, so I started my life in Orangeburg, teaching at South Carolina State.  I was 22 with a Masters. That had its great things and its complications because I had students who were old as me or soon to be and then I had these fine students. (Laughter). I said, “Hey I could date him.” No, but I said, no that’s not in my program, being that young and other faculty thinking I was a student. So there was a period where I had to establish my identity to say, no I’m not a student when I would show up to faculty meetings. And they were like, what are you doing here? Yeah, so I had to grow into that space, taking authority over classes and instruction and stuff at 22. And I was from the North. So I wasn’t one of them.

AL: And how did that factor into fitting in? In what ways did that –

BG: It’s still like that. It’s still like that. There are still people that don’t see me as one of us. And, but what they don’t realize is probably more – I was telling a group of women, we were in a reproductive justice training yesterday and I told them that for the first time last week when I was in Charleston on a panel I came to understand and I defined myself in a way as queer. Not queer in the context of what people define as queer but I was raised by a man so a lot of what people see in me is my father. They don’t see the stereotypical perception of what they think women are. So women like me, I could probably give other examples of women in another context but they see women like me as aggressive, as pushy, as demanding, as bitches, as whatever they want to call us. Especially men. Because I was raised by a man I have a certain to way with men. I was never taught how to use my feminine wiles to manipulate men. So I deal with them like I deal like dad taught me to, which was he taught us one, I’m not taking care of you for the rest of your life; two, once you leave you’re not coming back; and three, whatever I’m putting before you to craft what direction you’re going you need to take advantage of it because there’s not a lot of fallback. Now I don’t think that applied to my younger sister nor my oldest sister, but I certainly heard what he said and I adopted it whether it was consciously or unconsciously. So when I approach things or situations I usually do it like there’s no fallback. And that can be to my advantage and to my disadvantage, I’m aware of it. I’m not always good at adapting to it.

So I think that there are men in the South who think I should act a certain way and I don’t act that way. And so I think it has led to, in many cases, difficulties in getting things accomplished legislatively, identifying resources for our nonprofit organization. I’m not sure if I’m making sense, but. But they don’t know my history, they don’t know that my dad raised me and that really in a lot of ways I’m a reflection of what he taught me to do to survive as a woman that doesn’t necessarily have a plan B. So it still exists even today and it has existed through my entire career.

AL: And still you’ve been successful.

BG: I think success is relative. There are still things I want to do, things I’m going to have to do. I’ve chosen the work that I’m doing in HIV is not what I planned to do. I mean, I did not plan to do this. I had planned to be in family planning. When I was at IU what got me in that direction was the Kinsey Research Center. Alfred Kinsey did his work at IU. I never heard of him until I was at IU, and I heard about this place and it was an old house, it was like a three-story old house, and they had a library in it with all these old artifacts and books and things. And I used to go there and read all these books about sexuality and Klinefelter Syndrome and all these things about sex. I said, this is interesting, I think I could do this for a living. So I would go up in the attic and read books and stuff like that and that’s where I got my interest in sexuality. At one point I thought I wanted to be a sex therapist, and when I was at State I would go to these national conferences around the Institute of Sexology or something like that. It was an academic conference that was linked to the University of Penn. And I went up there and there was a black woman, I sat in on her session and she was doing a dissertation presentation from her study. And I didn’t have a doctorate then. I wanted one, I was getting bored at State, I wanted something more. But I wasn’t sure what direction I was going but long story short I asked her after she got done to go get a drink with me. And we sat in a bar and she talked to me, I said, “Tell me what it’s like to get a doctorate. Tell me what I have to do to do that.” And she – in her field – and she started talking to me about it and the more she talked the more anxiety-ridden I got. I think it was I started to compensate and that’s why I’m very careful how I talk to young people who speak to me and ask me the same question about what it requires. And I cried, I remember crying after I left her, I was like, I never can do it, I don’t think I can do it.

But I still decided I was going to pursue it so it was years afterward that I said I’m going to try to get my doctorate, that was in ’84. So I went to my chair, Dr. Hunter, and I said, “I want to go on sabbatical to pursue my doctorate.” And I wasn’t sure what but I knew I wanted to pursue my doctorate. And he said no. So I went to my husband, I said, “I can’t stay here forever. I can’t teach PE for the rest of my life. I need something else and they won’t give me a sabbatical so I’m quitting.” So I quit, I was crazy. I was 29 so I was there for…from the age of 22, 23 to 29, six years, and I quit. I came to USC and at first I thought I wanted to go into psychology and I did all the interviews. In psychology here at that time they made you, like interview with everybody and I was like . . . so when I got done with that I said, I don’t think psychology is it. This is horrible but I said, I don’t even like those people. I don’t want to do that. So I said, that’s not going to work so then I said, counseling. Then I did interviews for counseling and I came to terms with the fact that I’m not a good listener and so I said, that’s not it. And then I was introduced to public health. And I looked at it and I thought about the sexuality and I thought about research and I thought about programs and things I would want to be part of creating. And they had a doctorate in public health program so I said, I think I’m going to pursue that.

So I took the GRE. I’ve never been a great test taker, I took the GRE, even before USC I took it because I was even exploring physical therapy at one point. I didn’t do the way I felt I should. But when I finally said, I’m taking this for the last time, I’m not taking it anymore, let the chips fall where they may, I took it for the last time and USC – cause I wouldn’t, like go away (laughter) – they said, we’ll accept you on stipulations, they said, we’ll allow you to take two courses, Epi and Biostat. At Tuskegee and at IU I had, like a 3.7, 3.8 average. By the time I came to make this application to USC I had done some publishing, not a lot but some, so I was not coming into the door with nothing. But long story short I applied.

So I’ll tell you something I rarely tell people. So I took the classes, they said I had to get B or better, I did that. When they finally let me in as a doctoral student one night, I was there late doing something, and I wanted to look at my file so I went and I looked at my file. And I saw things they wrote about me during my application process. They wrote things like, they wrote about classes I would never pass, they said I was an overachiever, that there was a discrepancy between my academic achievement at Tuskegee and IU and my GRE scores so that I must have to really study really hard to make it through and I probably would not be successful, but give me an opportunity. So I was very angered by that. I remember standing in the old building in the middle of the, I don’t remember what time it was but it was late, and I cried and I said, how dare they predict my future, how dare they try to say what I can’t do. And I made a commitment to God, I said, if it kills me I’m going to finish this program and I’m going to prove them wrong; that that’s not the case. And when some of my classmates were leaving or getting pissed off or stressed out and deciding to walk away, I said, I’m not leaving, I’m finishing.

And I finished data collection and I did all of that. And I was at the last ends of things, I had finished my comps and my qualifying exams and all that stuff, and that was during a tenuous marriage as well and a daughter. I came into the secretary’s office for something and she says, “I’m going to say something to you I never said to anybody.” She said, “You’ve got somebody else in again.” So I said, “Well tell me what that means.” She said, “Well I’m not supposed to tell you but I’ll tell you.” And when she started to talk I knew what she was talking about but I chose not to share with her that I had seen my file. And so she said, “You know when you tried to get in from the beginning, you know, we sit in there when they’re making decisions about students, whether they’re coming in or not. And they didn’t think you were going to make it. They didn’t think that you would be successful here. But today they let somebody else in. They said, “Well look at Bambi, she’s one of our better doctoral students. She didn’t do well in this, that or the other and you see she’s succeeded.” And that’s when they taught me something that I still value and cherish as a life lesson, that my responsibility is not just about me or proving somebody wrong; that me sticking to something has something to do with somebody else getting an opportunity that they would never have gotten if I did not sacrifice and stick to something else.

And I share that with folks who need to know, who want to walk away when they really should stay. I mentored doctoral students when I was here, that was my GA. I worked with Masters and doctoral students, I had fellowship, I was on a fellowship. And when they would start to wane or start to walk away or whatever, my job was to keep them focused on finishing what you started. Or in some cases I went to people who had dropped out and I said, “You have to come back and finish what you started because somebody else isn’t going to get in if you don’t.” The people I usually did that with looked like me. But it was important that we finish for the sake of the next generation if you will. So I’m still like that. I still think that’s an important principle.

AL: Was it soon after that you founded the AIDS/HIV –

BG: I founded the South Carolina, what was the African American HIV/AIDS Council. When I left USC I was hired as a doctoral level consultant with the Department of Ed in 1988, back when they passed Comprehensive School Health. And I endured it for seven years. Number one, they never thought I would get the job and I was told that by a secretary. I learn a lot from secretaries. Yeah, I was a black woman, I had blonde hair. And I don’t know what I was thinking, I think I must’ve been, I don’t know what I was thinking, but the day of my interview I obviously showed up with a black leather suit on. And I went through the old regime that was Dr. Charlie Williams, he had been in that position for decades, and his cousin, Dr. Cooper was his cousin, and he was next in line, Associate Superintendent of the Department of Ed for the State. So there was a long legacy of governance and so you had to interview with everyone. And I interviewed, I went through each level and they hired me. And so when they hired me that’s when the secretary said, “I have to tell you, there was a bet in the secretary pool that you would never get this job.” And I’m like, “Why?” They said, “You were black, blonde and had a black leather suit on.” (Laughter) I’m like, “Ah-heh.” Go figure. Anyway, yeah they hired me, I was there for seven years but I was also the only consultant dealing with sexuality. Teaching teachers, working with superintendents and training them, and I worked in HIV preparation.

So long story short it was a very tenuous job. I was attacked on numerous occasions at different levels. Resistant school districts who didn’t want to put Comprehensive School Health into play, they had issues with my job was one to stick to the research so when I trained teachers I trained them based on research methods, not on your philosophical perspectives or what was not science. And so my colleague worked in alcohol and drugs and did those kinds of things, I worked in human sexuality so I developed all of the sexual health content and trained teachers in that. And so my methods were research-based, that brought a lot of controversy, legislators came for me, I was constantly being pulled into things. The ultimate culmination was around me providing instruction in condom use, discussion of condoms, how teachers should provide instruction. I was called in before a subcommittee of the legislature for corrupting the children of South Carolina. I had to do public testimony and it was very public, it was very media driven and very controversial, even to this day there are remnants of it in my work where people still remember those days. I knew that my tenure was going to be tenuous.

When they moved me physically out of the Department of Ed to another agency I knew the writing was on the wall. Dr. Barbara Nielson was my supervisor then, the superintendent. She called me in San Francisco and said, “When you get back you’re being called before the legislature to testify. And this is their concern and issue . . . [etc.].” I do respect her. She realized it was a witch hunt but she had to adhere to the demand that I be there. She told me I needed to prepare for it, I did. It was staged, it was very political. And long story short they moved me out of the department. I knew I needed to mentally prepare for that. They couldn’t just fire me because I was doing my job, I had skills and I was doing what I was hired to do. But politically I was a liability to her and I think in her reelection attempts to superintendent, and just the controversy of sexuality education as part of Comprehensive School Health.

But I moved willingly. I enjoyed every minute of that move, it took me out of the fire of being in the main office. I was housed in the Department of Alcohol and other drugs. But emotionally and mentally I prepared myself for that day as best I could. I knew it was coming. It took them a couple of years to decide not to fund the proviso, that’s how they decided to handle that. It was funded through a proviso to the Department of Ed that funded my positions, my colleague’s position and the work that we were doing on behalf of the State, they didn’t fund it. And so in not funding it we were given our pink slip. That was the year I started the agency.

I did go through a period of disillusionment of knowing I did what I was hired to do, but I believe in God and I believe that nothing is by chance. Like meeting Dr. Hunter in that big building with thousands of people and running into the man that was my uncle’s roommate in college and happened to be from the state I wanted, that was not a coincidence. My husband says that I flunked him in class, I also know that one of his classmates said that he pointed at me when I was teaching at Benedict when I was still a doctoral student and he said he was going to be my husband, that he was going to marry me. And he was a student then and his friend of course said, “Yeah, right man. Yeah, sure.” And we ended up meeting years later and we ended up, we’ve been married, what, almost 25 years now. So nothing’s coincidence. So when I’m, with me at the Department of Ed was not coincidence, it was what was required for me to start the organization.

I was wounded from all the public exposure and just what I perceived to be abandonment in some context. People take sides when those kinds of things, people that don’t want to associate because of the public kind of commentary that happened around your work environment, so I got to see who people were for real. But my husband said something to me that was significant and I was up, trying to figure out so what’s my next move, what am I going to do? Because I wasn’t really hirable. When I say hirable it wasn’t about my credentials it was about the controversy that came along with me. And so he said, “Well why are you going to pursue the familiar? Why are you going to go back to what makes you comfortable? You said you’ve been working on this group . . .” because we had started it in ’94, we started the Council in ’94. I got released in ’95. So he said, “Well you’ve been working on this HIV thing with these people. They don’t have any leadership, why don’t you pursue that?”

And so, I don’t know, instead of getting up and going to work I got up and went to the back of the house where there was a brick building. There’s three pieces of property where we live. There was an office that really was a floral shop that belonged to the woman, even us in that house was not a coincidence, but I started the agency in the back of our house in the little brick building. And I would get up every day and get dressed like I was going to work and go there in the back. And I would start pursuing my identity again, who I was. And so I did some consulting work, I worked on the Council stuff, I looked for money. And the first grant we got was $20,000; that was my salary, David Kelly’s salary and the program’s salary. And simultaneously going to unemployment every day proving to them that I was looking for employment. So there was a piece of me that was not embarrassed but felt violated in the way things were done, and that it wasn’t about all the time I spent educating myself, it was really about who I was as a woman, who I was as a black woman. A controversial black woman talking about something that nobody wants to talk about.

But we got that first grant. That told me that there was more and I started to work on some very specific things. Long story short the CDC came out with their – oh, we got a contract with DHEC, I got a contract with DHEC to work in syphilis elimination and I hired an old classmate. She was at DHEC, she was tired of them, I said, I’ll give you a job if you want it. And she and I worked out the back of the house and ran a syphilis elimination project in three counties. And then the CDC came out with the very first community-based opportunity to do testing and counseling and I wrote that grant. And we got it and that moved us out of the back house into another space. So now we have two CDC grants, one SAMPSA, we do some behavioral health. I have, like eight state contracts with DHEC and then we have some other smaller things. We’re still vulnerable because we’re very grant dependent, but I have approximately 20-some staff. Our primary anchor service is what it was always, testing. That is the one key anchor that we’re probably the largest non-medical provider, we test for everything. So anyone that comes in our office it’s opt-out, so unless you say you don’t want it we test for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, Hep-C.

AL: And so is it more anonymous than going to a medical facility?

BG: Everything is confidential. There is no anonymity in South Carolina. So we’re very HIPAA protected, we have an EHR, electronic health record. We do have a clinic the Wright Wellness Center, which is our official name. We were the South Carolina African American HIV/AIDS Council that was our founding name. But it was a stigma. People would call up and say, “Do you only serve black people?” People would say, “Why is it black?” Black people would say, “You’re stigmatizing us.” So it took me a long time to get my board to change the name to the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council. And then we’ve taken AIDS out of the name, we want to destigmatize the agency so Cynthia Wright, who was the same person that worked on syphilis elimination with me in the back house, she passed from cancer some years ago and so we claimed the right, we went to her husband and asked him would he allow us to use her name as a namesake. She was an epidemiologist by the way. And he said yes so we are the Wright Wellness Center. So our principle name is the South Carolina HIV Council but our d/b/a is the Wright Wellness Center.

There is a piece in-between that but because it’s caught up in some legal conversation right now I won’t get into it as part of this conversation, but it’s changed the way I see this work. What I will say, what has changed the way we do the work, is that there is a new movement to franchise this work, to move to a medical model of this work. I think it is regressive that they’re trying to revitalize that model where they’re directing the majority of funds to entities that only provide care; that the role of community-based organizations in addressing infectious disease is being minimized or defunded while they shift money into medical models. I do believe they will grow to regret this franchising of HIV. It was the same model they followed back in the early ‘80s when AIDS, HIV was a critical conversation filled with all kinds of negativity, where people only showed up when they were on the their death bed; that is what they’re moving back to.

We are the mechanism by which we intervene. We focus on prevention, we focus on intervention. We focus on being the stop gap measure between someone who’s at high risk and someone who will show up to a hospital ER or show up into a federally qualified health center with advanced stages of disease. But for whatever reason they think that going back to what was is the way that they should deal with this epidemic. I deeply believe it’s the wrong move, so that is also a part of trying to survive. The funding that was made available to community-based organizations to provide testing, counseling, screening, early intervention services, treatment for STDs, is being eliminated and deeply underfunded, especially in the south where the epidemic is. And President Trump has shifted money but again the question is, are the locations in which you’re putting the bulk of the money the best bang for the buck and the answer in my opinion is no. So what the epidemic looked like then and what it’s becoming now, the impact of that is yet to be seen.

So it’s very challenging in this arena right now, staying viable, staying open. Funding from the legislature typically has to be hidden so they don’t see it. And cut it and veto it like was done. People that have lobbyist, people that are into the franchising of HIV who’ve made millions of dollars off of pharmacy, who can afford to pay people to go talk to legislators and get them to make moves that they would never make if they weren’t paying them or investing in their campaigns and things like that, we don’t have that kind of money. I run a non-profit. My funding does not allow me to secure a lobbyist. HIV is not sexy. In the south it’s very difficult to fundraise for HIV. So the AIDS Benefit Foundation for example that created Dining with Friends, the mechanism by we brought people together and they made donations and then they put out RFAs or RFPs for people like us to apply for those funds and provide direct services. They closed their doors this year officially. So it’s becoming more and more challenging to find philanthropy on this arena of healthcare. And so I’m not quite clear what our history is going to be. The Wright Wellness Center, we’ve had some of the most challenging years these last two years, between fighting for a space against the tide of HIV franchisement and legislator who don’t get it, just don’t get it. That we are saving taxpayer dollars, that we are the mechanism by which you stabilize healthcare. Someone showing up at the ER with HIV with no insurance, the fact that they have yet to expand Medicaid and don’t plan to, so there’s a combination of things that – or ensuring that organizations like the Wright Wellness Center, the South Carolina HIV Council, will continue to have to reframe, rebrand, restructure themselves and create, unfortunately in some cases, models that really are not the most impactful way to serve the people that need it the most.

AL: Yeah. And I want to talk a little bit about how, I mean, you’ve talked about it to some degree but navigating as a woman through society and even the world. Anything particular that strikes you?

BG: Well again, I think for all women right now we’re all under siege. You can see what’s being done with the tax on choice. There is still in this country for all women issues around trying to control our bodies. So that has to be a backdrop to what you’re asking me about how I see womanhood. I’ve told you that my view of the world is mostly based on the guidance from someone who has testosterone. So I’m still navigating that space. I’m navigating the space of being a woman and what I have in common with all women, regardless of their orientation or their race or socioeconomic status or gender identity or whatever that is. As a black woman I think I sit in a unique space. I do believe that black women are the most unvalued, most likely to be discarded. I’m not being negative I’m just speaking of what I’ve experienced personally. And how we even have to navigate with women. I think I’m the same way as in a woman’s skin as I am probably in the way I maneuver my relationships with men because I’m a heterosexual black woman.

I said I was queer but not in the context of my sexual orientation, more in the context of how I think people perceive me. The fact that I’m a woman that talks about sex makes me queer. The fact that I’m a black woman in the South where Bible is everything, where much of people’s behavior is guided by what they perceive to be religious doctrine. And the hypocrisy of it all. The believing one thing and acting in another. You can’t live in the Bible belt but yet see epi data that says most of the STDs are in the South, where pregnancy among teens is at proportion in the South. There’s a contradiction between the fact that people go to church every Sunday but yet they’re still sexual people so they’re living these split double lives and it makes it difficult for women like me to have the conversation and to educate. So I think what you’re hearing from me is there’s a duality of what my life is like, how I perceive the world from my environment. My dad said I’m a product of my environment. People tell me I’m always the same. Folks I haven’t seen in years will say to me, “You’re the same. You’re the same.” What that means is, to me, is that I’m really not the same but how I treat people is the same. I don’t care whether you’re homeless I’m going to treat you the same. If you approach me in a respectful way then I’m going to treat you, I don’t care what your condition is, I’m going to treat you like I would want to be treated. That is how I was raised, that is what I believe. Unfortunately that’s now how the world is. We say we are but we’re not.

So as a woman I think I have obligations to women. I have a daughter. We haven’t always gotten along, we don’t always see the world the same but I’m watching her and I’m so proud of her. She was a teen mother, despite what I do. There was a point in my career where I asked God, like I saw him moving me out of – remember I told you from the beginning my intent was to work in family planning, my dissertation was a pregnancy study – and it wasn’t until she got pregnant at 16 and someone asked me to come and do a session and I said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “I don’t think I’m legitimate. I don’t think that I can stand in front of a group of parents anymore and talk to them about things . . .” I knew I had done the right things, I knew I had talked to her, I knew I provided her with information. I know that I took her to her first doctor’s appointment. I know that I said to the doctor, “If she ever comes to you and I’m not present and she wants birth control or anything like that you should accommodate her.” I know I did all those things, but I know wat the world is like to women. And so I noticed, again nothing’s coincidence, all of the work I did in teen pregnancy and what I thought the direction I was moving started to dissipate, so I knew I was being shifted.

That’s when I met Diana and moved into HIV. I met this woman who was working in HIV out of her beauty shop. That’s how I really got into HIV. It wasn’t I just started the agency, I had worked with Diana-Diana for 15 years doing grassroots. She introduced me to HIV at a DHEC meeting and asked me to be her vice-president for youth services. I’m like, you got money? No. Okay, I’ll do it for free. So I worked with her for 15 years doing grassroots, on the ground HIV education back when they let you in schools. They never let us do what we did back then in the ‘80s, educate kids the way they let us when they were hysterical and they were afraid of AIDS and they let us come in and talk to the children and that’s where I learned all of what I know to be true about parents and, talking to your kids and living a double life with your children and not preparing them for the future, not preparing them for the day you let them go, and why we have so many young people not in our office testing positive unnecessarily for everything. Because they’ve just been set upon the world without that knowledge, not in school, not in church, not at home.

So I think there’s a book in me somewhere. I’m not sure when I have the time to do it. But in my book as a black woman I can talk about all of the hurdles and all of the achievements that I believe I brought and want to bring to the world. But I can also talk about disappointments and – what do I call it – periods of disillusionment. And in some cases just outright aggression toward women that comes in different ways. Aggression toward women isn’t always an attack, it’s not always something physical. It’s what you do when you attempt to destroy a woman’s reputation. When they call you before the legislature and they question your motherhood and they question your parenting and they tell you to talk to them about how you raised your children. And when they try to make women be spectacles, which I don’t play spectacle.

I think in a way I’m like an octopus as far as tentacles, I have all these tentacles that surround me and they’re constantly moving. And some of them are probably undiscovered. I will have another career. I don’t want to be a leader that sits in the seat out of fear. I do plan to leave the Council, I just don’t know quite yet what my next move is. I don’t feel like I sacrificed. I don’t feel like I gave up something. I think I was placed in this mission work for a reason. I think whatever blows or injuries that I’ve sustained is for the better good for both women, for the people that I’ve been called to serve. That will be my legacy if you will with the Council. And I don’t need it to be validated. I know that we came from nothing and I know that we help people and I get affirmation of that regularly. But I also know that I made economic choices to do this work that have not secured me. So I’m not in a space to retire and I’m not sure when I’ll be in that space. That’s kind of scary so I haven’t figured that part out yet.

AL: Did you have any questions?

Jillian Hinderliter: I just have a few questions kind of looking back, whether it’s on your education at Tuskegee or later in your grad work, but how did you find the kind of health education environments in those sorts of institutions, whether as a student or someone who’s interested in those fields? So were there Our Bodies, Ourselves there, was the school leading anything or was it still very hush-hush?

BG: When I was in high school in Vineland it was that class that was always great for me. I was at a predominately white high school, they believed in health education. I had great PE teachers. That’s why I was always interested in it. Mrs. Cropper, one of my PE teachers, I still go see her when I go there. I went to my 45th high school reunion, I still go see her. She taught me what good health education, they taught me what that looks like. When I was at Tuskegee I had great professors who really understood health education, not just PE. But my instructors for that made me excited about that. And I knew that’s something I wanted to do, I wasn’t quite clear. When I went to IU when I was able to not just look at health education but look at the legal aspects of it and look at what I wanted to do, actually I thought I wanted to coach. I thought I wanted to go into administration but it was the Kinsey Research Center that switched that for me. And so the sexuality, the health education and wanting to focus on sexuality as part of comprehensive health was really what guided me. I always had great experiences.

It wasn’t until I got to the Department of Ed and traveled in 94 autonomous school districts and saw the lengths that people would go to to censure information to keep children ignorant about their bodies, about their minds and making choices about freedom of choice, not just about abortion but about birth control, about what’s safer, where I saw people that were orchestrating events to ensure that children left out of high school unprepared to face the real life; that everyone was not going to be heterosexual, that everyone was not going to maintain abstinence until marriage, for black women who might never get married, because at the rate they incarcerate our men where are they? So there were all kinds of dynamics that began to morph and help me look at why health education was critical.

And one of my professors at USC taught me something and I share it frequently. He said, “If you want to control the destiny of a people you seek to control two things. You seek to control their access to education” (whatever that is, how much they get, the quality of it, who provides it, and the spirit in which it’s provided). Those are things that I may have added on, but education or the failure to ensure that people have access to it is how you keep them in servitude and how you keep them under your control.

Similarly, access to healthcare. If you don’t provide it to them or you control how they can access it, who does it, the quality of it, how often you get it, whether it’s based on fairness, then if you can control all of those elements then you control that people. You ensure they’ll be sick, you’ll ensure that they stay in a certain economic space. You ensure that their generations and generations after them will come up in those same environments. So you create an environment of sickness. And so what I see my role as a woman, as a public health specialist, is to do everything I can while I can to help educate communities and make sure that they get access to information that they want.

JH: And so I think about this a lot as a historian because Our Bodies, Ourselves I think announced last year that they’re no longer publishing updated volumes of their book. And that was published for 40+ years in multiple languages and it was seen as such a political statement as well as a health statement to provide that kind of information and access in a manual, in a book you could go to the public library and check out. And so I was just curious, did you ever interact with sort of the groups within the feminist health movement, whether it’s, Byllye Avery’s National Black Women’s Health Project or any of those literature incarnations?

BG: I was associated. Some of those folks have passed on and in their passing their movement. I am very much committed to millennial development. I believe that’s going to be the only hope that we have. I am always open, ready and willing to looking for that person who’s going to take my place. If I don’t create a system that somebody can take my place then it will dissolve. The loss of those kinds of publications and the emphasis of this country to put other things in its place that is not based on research and that is not based on the belief that we should have access, or distorting facts like some of the so-called researched-based information that’s out about abstinence and the messaging that they put out there to prevent women from believing in accessing health information, and boys too, quite frankly. Our young men are more ignorant than ever about not only their bodies but the bodies of the people that they’re interested in being with from an intimate perspective; be they male or female.

So I do believe that our country’s regressing. We are moving back in many ways to stages and times that, when I think about Moynihan when he first put out some of his first readings and the things that I thought would become obsolete are now being revitalized in mentality and people are willing to sacrifice whatever to put people back in their place? It’s really a scary place to be right now for me, as a woman, as a public health provider. How people transition their personal beliefs into the work that they’re doing, whether it’s county government, city government, state government, national government, it’s a distortion. And we’re going along for the ride. And I’m not sure what the answer is to that. And I certainly don’t think I have the answer to it. All I have is my own space and time to do as much as I can and to train my staff to the best of my ability to be a certain type of provider. I don’t tolerate disrespecting clients. I don’t care at what stage they come in at there’s a certain way we will handle people because you don’t know their history, you don’t know why they’re presenting, you don’t know what they’ve been through. I cross train, I want you to know more than one thing. Not so because it makes you a better servant but it also gives you more employment opportunities if you decide to leave, you’ll have more skillsets. So being a woman for me means being multi-dimensional and preparing other people to be the same and not being insecure in that. We should be preparing for the next generation at all times, who’s going to take our place while we simultaneously figure out where our next move is going to be.

JH: And in terms of next moves you’ve mentioned that South Carolina has declined Medicaid expansion, they consistently say they’re not going to.

BG: They said they’re not doing it, not at least under the current administration.

JH: Right. And yet we know, I was a TA for a women’s health course here, we studied, the southeast and South Carolina specifically when we talk about HIV/AIDS and look at the rates. And we look at just the prevalence of these sorts of issues here, and so what do you think is the disconnect there between seeing your population and what they’re suffering through then saying, you know what, no we’re going to – is this a bootstraps question, is this something about, you know, “this isn’t the role of the government to provide further healthcare,” or is it a pushback in general to the kind of Great Society Medicare/Medicaid type approach? Just from your experience. I think about this a lot, so it’s a tough question.

AL: And the religious piece.

BG: Well let me just be clear, I think that those of us that do this work we’re the minority, within that. So first dealing with the women that do this work, anybody that knows me, anybody that sees me knows why I’m there. When I got to the State House they know I’m there for a reason. I’m not just there to schmooze, I’m there for a reason. In my social life, and I don’t like this about it but it is what it is, in my social life people know what I do. That’s what I talk about, that’s who I am. I don’t like it but it’s just who I am. I find that there are many people that do this work but when they’re in their private life, it’s not part of their private life. But those are the people in your private life that really vote and make decisions. So let’s just say, this is hypothetical, so you have a board member who sits on your board and introduces themselves to the world but never says they’re on your board. Them just saying it says to people it has credibility, but if you don’t say it that’s just what you do, people see it as your job, you get paid to do that. So when you talk about why we don’t get it, when I testified at the Heartbeat Bill I was the only black woman that I’m aware of that testified. Standing room only, overflow room, a few young black women there, there were no black physicians who testified, there were no black women’s organizations whether it was my sorority or all of the, I could go on and name entities who represent black women who are more than likely going to be brunt of legality, who are the ones who are going to need to practice choice, who are poor and black and pregnant again and can’t afford another baby but can’t go get a safe abortion because of their rights being taken, while people who do have resources can go fly to Massachusetts or New York or wherever and get a safe abortion. We should have been there, we should have flooded those halls. We should have left our jobs and stood up and said, you won’t be sitting in this seat next 2020, we’re going to make it our business to get you out of that seat. We won’t sit back and let you take our rights.

One of the lessons I’ve learned in all of this is that I’ve had to stop being – my mother said that when I was young I would run around and say, “I’ll fix it.” She said that. And she told me that when I was an adult and when we started to really talk, rekindle. And at one point I said, “Dag, that explains it.” Maybe that was my childhood reaction to seeing things in their relationship that I couldn’t fix, I don’t know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze it but she said to me, “You always used to run around saying, ‘I’ll fix it’.” And throughout my life when I look back at other times and spaces and things, my dad used to say to me, “Why are you always the one to . . .” And so he told me in his way that I was still playing that role. And I’ve had my daughter tell me in one way or another. So there’s something about that, about me, and I’m trying to really work hard on that, about feeling like I always have to fix it or save it. Sometimes I should just listen to people and let them say whatever they’re going to say and not try to give them a solution to it. I’m really at that space now as a woman, as a black woman, as an advocate.

And at some level I’m tired, I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over again. I’m tired of going to the Department of Corrections saying, “You need to test your inmates for Hep C.” And to have them say, “No.” And now they have a federal mandate and now they have no other recourse. But you were told. We met with you on more than one occasion. Or I’m tired of talking to pastors and talking to them about their rhetoric on homosexuality and going to them and saying, “I understand your theology but the same people that are sitting in your pews who you want to tithe and you want to volunteer are the same people you’re bashing when you feel that it’s appropriate for you to talk about who God’s made them to be. So you continue to do that but don’t be surprised.” And I tell them that.

So to your question I’m not sure, I believe that those of us that do the work have an obligation at some point to move it outside of our jobs. That we have, if we’re going to do advocacy work it’s going to require a different kind of advocacy. That we should be training the next generation of advocates. Instead of us being intimidated with aggressive, highly motivated young people who see a problem and want to address it. We should be welcoming that. We should be hiring that. We should be giving them everything that we have so they can shift into our spot and continue the work, versus doing what I see some women doing; being intimidated, actually doing things to minimize and to squash or to silence the spirits of the next generation so that they can maintain positions of authority. So that they can continue to be stroked and to feel that they’re special, when in fact, like death, we’re all going to die. Sooner or later. So you can either continue to deny it and act like you don’t need to prepare for it, you hope it’ll come when you want it but there’s no guarantee. It’s the same thing with leadership. We should be preparing to make our achievements, to know when to say when and to prepare the next generation to take our space while we figure out what our next move is.

That’s where I’m at right now. I can’t explain the broader rationalization of South Carolina and why they want to keep women repressed. But I tell you that this whole abortion movement, and I say this with some hesitancy, but I do believe it’s the truth, that a lot of this anti-abortion rhetoric is around the fact that misogynistic men are fearful that they’re outnumbered and that white women who are pursuing careers and want to delay pregnancy until they have their careers stabilized and those kinds of things are choosing to either not have children or to delay birth till later where they’ll only have a few. And I think they want women to stop aborting their children. And this is a major emphasis on trying to, I mean, being overpopulated by the wrong people. It’ll never be said. It’ll never be validated. But I can’t come to terms with this movement. Why we would want women going to a back alley dirty place to handle something that’s really none of your business. And why more women are not speaking up against that. I hear activist women but the mainstream woman, she’s not speaking up about it. And that’s why things aren’t changing. So we have to get to the mainstream woman. You’re not the mainstream woman.

JH: Neither are you.

BG: I’m not the mainstream woman. I’m not the mainstream black woman.

AL: Is there anything else that we haven’t asked you that you feel is important to add?

BG: No. I probably told you things I’ve never told anybody. I tell people I’m a behaviorist so I rarely listen to what people say. I listen to what they say but I a more an observer of their behavior. So if you tell me you love me, that’s not specific to me because I was telling someone my husband’s never raised his hand to me, he’s never grabbed me, he’s never done anything aggressive to me. Although some other men would think, like you know, they’re like I want to meet the man that’s married to you! I’m like, why? Some men have issues with women they perceive as assertive. But I think that that’s really the charge for us as women, both interpersonally and globally, and what we teach our daughters for the future. Because people learn more from what they see versus what you say. Whether it’s your relationship with your partner, you can say anything to a kid but they see and that’s what frames it. You can say you believe a certain thing about people but what you put in law really speaks to your spirit and what your intentions are. So if you say, I won’t support healthcare but yet you profess to care about people but you would deny them access to getting diagnoses or getting early intervention, it’s just totally incongruent. But we know that when we walk in the voting booth. So a lot of, when people ask me about the current administration I say the people got what the people wanted. And some of the people that ask the question also voted for that administration for different reasons.

But I’ll say in closure that one of the things I really appreciated was I met a woman, she happened to be a white woman, we met in a restaurant area, and she invited me over to have a drink. And we started talking, she had been listening to us at the bar but then invited me over. And we got into, she was totally republican, totally supportive of the current administration, and we got into a dialogue about many things. And when we got done talking very candidly she said to me, “This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to talk to someone about what I really think and they didn’t attack me.” And that is the key I think to what women of all groups have to come to a space where we don’t necessarily have to agree, but we need to have some really transparent conversations without holding a grudge, without feeling that someone is amoral, that something’s wrong with them. We just don’t agree. But let’s agree on the facts. Not on your opinion. Your opinion to me should be based on facts, things that you know to be true. That’s what I try to present. I try to present credible evidence that’s based on research, that’s based on things that can be validated in some way, shape or form. So women should be about validating.

AL: Great, thank you so much.

End of Interview