meet Laila Brown, co-creator of 601 for Period Equity

Laila is a 16-year-old junior from Vicksburg, Mississippi. 601 For Period Equity is a Black woman-led grassroots organization based in Jackson and Vicksburg, MS created by Laila and her sister Asia Brown. They are dedicated to fighting period poverty in Mississippi, specifically among Black and marginalized menstruators. Additionally, they are passionate about eliminating period stigma in the Black community!

Pat: I love the concept behind 601 Period for Equity. What is your main goal/mission when it comes to this organization?

Laila: Thank you! Our mission is to fight period poverty in Mississippi, specifically uplifting Black and marginalized menstruators who typically get left out of the mainstream menstrual equity movement. Our mission has three pillars: Mutual Aid, Advocacy, and Education! We provide mutual aid to menstruators throughout the state by distributing period supplies to shelters, schools, free clinics, individuals, and families across the entire state of MS! In the future, we hope to advocate for the abolition of Mississippi's luxury sales tax on menstrual products! In addition, we are in the process of launching our 1 in 4 initiative to provide menstruators in Mississippi schools with free, organic menstrual products with the installation of Aunt Flow product dispensers! We also hope to educate menstruators about their bodies in a dignifying and empowering way! We are currently in the process of developing menstruation education content! We also have a social media campaign on our Instagram @601forperiodequity, where we give definitions of menstrual and menstruation-related terms that people typically are unaware of!

Pat: What are some of the things that 601 Period for Equity does in your area?

Laila: So far, we have donated over 500 period care packages to shelters, schools, free clinics, individuals, and families across the state of Mississippi. A lot of our period care packages are created during volunteer events! Packages consist of tampons, pads, panty liners, wipes, and other products that a menstruator might need on their period. Mutual aid has been the focus of a lot of our operations for the past few months since we started in January of this year! We are in the process of developing educational content and launching campaigns in Vicksburg, Jackson, and at my cofounder and sister, Asia’s institution in Atlanta, Spelman College, to get menstruators access to free period products through the installation of Aunt Flow product dispensers.

Pat: Was there any specific person, media, or experience that pushed you towards the topic of period poverty?

Laila: A lot of my activism and interests stem from my identity as a Black girl growing up in the deep South, especially considering the political climate that was brought on due to the Presidential Election of 2016 during my middle school years. My activism and organizing experience began in 2020 because I was passionate about getting more involved in my community since poverty in my area was exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I got involved in organizing around sex education in Mississippi schools with the Mississippi Youth Council through Teen Health Mississippi! I became a Fellow for the Homegirl Project and created an online educational course about Black women’s radical politics! My sister and I also became ambassadors for the Pad Project, a period nonprofit whose mission is to end period stigma and empower menstruators across the globe. The launch of 601 For Period Equity was truly a culmination of my gained skills and experience from all three of these organizations. What I learned being an ambassador for the Pad Project and curating their social media content -along with some of my sister, Asia’s amazing Spelman College sisters- for Black History Month to center and uplift the experiences of Black menstruators was what really kick-started 601 For Period Equity! Being an ambassador for the Pad Project truly gave me a better perspective into how Black menstruators and Black menstrual organizations are treated within the mainstream menstrual equity space. We are often left out of conversations that we desperately need to be in because of the way we experience period poverty and menstrual shame being both Black and menstruators.

Pat: What were some of the challenges that came with creating 601 period for equity?

Laila: Learning to start from the ground up and reaching out to people was and still is a struggle we face. It sometimes feels hard to get to the people who need help the most because people in period poverty are also living in POVERTY. Period poverty refers to the lack of access menstruators have to tampons, pads, and other period poverty, as well as to proper hand washing and waste management services. We are always looking for more ways to reach out to people in our community, especially considering the fact that we’ve all been in quarantine for the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pat: What are some ways you see that Black women in particular are suffering from period poverty?

Laila: Black women and menstruators suffer from period poverty in a very unique way, not only because of how we are disproportionately affected by poverty, but also because of how we are treated in the medical field. Lots of Black women and menstruators will tell you that our voices, experiences, and pain is often ignored within the medical field and when we try to get medical attention. Our lack of access to proper health care and quality practitioners in addition to the period stigma in the Black community results in a large number of Black women and menstruators who are suffering in silence from menstruation-related conditions such as uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and more. There is a long history of medical racism and misogyny towards Black women and menstruators within the medical field that truly affects the way we access medical care. Trans and non-binary Black menstruators are also typically erased and left out of the conversations that are held within the Black community.

Pat: What do you believe the root of this issue (period poverty/period stigma in general) to be?

Laila: Over the course of this pandemic, my politics have really radicalized. Witnessing such violence both in the media and news and in my own community last summer changed my perspectives on a lot of things. Period poverty at its core is just poverty. I believe that the root of poverty is capitalism. Growing up in such a chaotic political climate during some of my most formative years along with living as a Black girl in Mississippi, the poorest and proportionately Blackest state in the country really has given me a unique vantage point on poverty. It’s worth mentioning that I’m able to say this as someone who hasn’t had to deal with poverty and financial struggles like some of my peers as someone who comes from a middle class, two parent household. I think the root of period stigma comes from patriarchy and a general fear, hate, and phobia of non cis-male bodies.

Pat: What do you see in the future of this organization? Do you plan on expanding to different locations or creating chapters?

Laila: I hope that I can inspire other Black menstruators enough to want to take on 601 For Period Equity when I go off to college! I don’t want the work we do in Mississippi to end just because I’m not physically there anymore. We currently have a branch in Jackson, MS, which is headed by Maisie Brown (no relation to Asia and I)! We also have a branch lead in Laurel, MS who is Asia's Spelman sister, Shaquavia Straughn! Whenever the fall semester starts, Asia and Shae will both be starting a project at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and advocating for free product dispensers in bathrooms on campus.

Pat: What are some ways in which you believe we can eliminate the stigma behind menstruation in our regular day to day lives?

Laila: I think having more open conversations about menstruation and being on your period is a great way to eliminate period stigma. I think we should treat menstruation like the regular bodily function that it is. A lot of the stigma surrounding periods has to do with us feeling dirty and unclean when we menstruate, and we need to provide menstruators with education that empowers them and gives them dignity that is often stripped away when we get our first period and begin to menstruate.

Pat: How do you balance running 601 for Period Equity while still maintaining school and all the other things you are interested in?

Laila: That’s a great question! I actually feel like I constantly have to reassess how I’m balancing school, 601, social life, and everything else I have going on! I try to rest and give myself breaks. I think that I have to remind myself to rest because activist burnout is VERY real. I think that as a culture, we encourage teens and young adults to hustle and grind and do a million things at once, but we have to remind ourselves to rest and pace ourselves. I can’t help anyone if I don’t take care of myself first. I also can’t serve as an effective leader in my community if I’m not functioning because I have low morale and feel drained and uninspired.

Pat: How do you see period poverty fit into the overall goal of feminism for gender equality?

Laila: I think that in my experience, I see period poverty as a means to give women and menstruators dignity and better opportunities. I really love Operation Period’s term “menstrual freedom” because I think it highlights how period poverty connects to other issues in the grand scheme of things. Menstrual freedom is a concept where in order to liberate all menstruators, we must abolish all oppressive systems that prevent menstruators from accessing products and menstruating in a dignified way.

Pat: How has being a woman of color influenced your drive to create change?

Laila: Being both Black and woman has been the driving point for my need to create change as a means for survival. I feel like I really yearn for liberation; a life where I don’t have to worry about experiencing violence perpetuated by oppressive systems such as racism, capitalism, and misogynoir. As a Black woman from Mississippi who comes from Black women who lived in the Jim Crow South and who taught me about the experiences of their mothers and grandmothers who were slaves, I am proud of the things I am able to do today that they weren’t, but I also know that there’s a long way to go in my fight to liberate not only myself, but all those suffering from oppression.

Pat: What is some advice you have for young women of color who also want to create change just as you are right now but don’t know where to start?

Laila: I think that first and foremost I would say do your research and acknowledge your privilege. I would’ve never started 601 For Period Equity without knowing about period poverty, how it affects Black and marginalized menstruators, who menstruates, how period poverty affects Mississippians, etc! I think that it’s okay and necessary to acknowledge when you don’t know something. We all have a lot of learning to do! Be open to criticism (which is something I struggle with today too) and acknowledge when you’ve hurt someone or when you make a mistake. It’s important to acknowledge the ways you have privilege and are also oppressed. Yes, I am a Black woman from Mississippi, but I also come from a middle class background, and I don’t have to worry about colorism, or transphobia, or fatphobia, or a myriad of other things. Both things can be true at once and I think coming to terms with your privilege is important if you’re going to do effective work. There will always be someone out there who has more knowledge about certain issues than you. Take the opportunity to learn from others and hear them out. I think one of the best ways to start to create change is to find out if there are other organizations in your area who are already doing work you’re interested in. There are organizations in Mississippi that I never would’ve thought existed considering my state's conservative and racist socio-political history, but you have to remember that wherever there are oppressed people, there are people resisting oppression. It’s what people of color do and it's what we’ve always done, and it’s what we will continue to do until all systems of oppression have fallen. Another good place to start is within your school system. I’m personally super excited about starting up our campaign to install Aunt Flow product dispensers in my area! At its core, grassroots organizing is about people who share a common goal or struggle who decide to make a change by recruiting other like-minded people and organizing for or against something. There’s so many ways that the American educational system needs to be changed to better serve menstruating students, poor students, students of color, disabled students, trans students, queer students, etc!

For more of 601 for Period Equity, check out their insta & website!

illustration by ira swatimanish