Field and Outreach, March 2024

Written by Rebecca Harrington, Senior Director of Advocacy and Outreach | Published: March 11, 2024

Meet Our New Field Assistant, YoVanna Solomon

YoVanna Solomon returned to us in 2023 after earning a graduate degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Florida at Gainesville. She had already gotten her feet wet at Population Connection as our Advocacy and Outreach Fellow in 2021, and now she’s here as a permanent staff member, in the role of Field Assistant. We’re so happy to have her back!

Organizing origins

YoVanna’s introduction to organizing was at Athenian Press & Workshops, a bookstore and publishing house for women and femmes based in her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. The organization also provided creative workshops for women of color, in collaboration with a group of partner community organizations, and connected folks to community health resources — including mental health providers of color and sexual and reproductive health services — through the county health department.

YoVanna volunteered leading creative writing workshops. She was struck that “while we were doing heavy work, everything was grounded in joy, and allowing women of color, in particular, to tap into their joy.”

One of the workshops she helped to run was called “Humor as a Vessel to Healing,” which encouraged participants to use humor to process personal and collective trauma. YoVanna called on her experience as an amateur stand-up comedian as she facilitated these sessions. “Comedy gives me a platform to process my girlhood and share my experience of Black womanhood. It’s a place for me to step into my voice.”

YoVanna’s first paid organizing role was with the Carolina Federation, a political organization that works to build power across race and class in North Carolina. Through this position, she came to understand the power of local government, and the importance of engaging at the municipal level. She realized, “The leadership system that most affects my life is local government, and organizers and volunteers can shift power in local government so that it works to support the people who actually live there.”

Learning through travel

YoVanna witnessed firsthand the enormous unmet need for reproductive health care in low- and middle-income countries when she studied abroad in Uruguay and then subsequently traveled for a year throughout Latin America. She recalls a “vivid conversation” with a close friend in Colombia who’d had an unplanned pregnancy. This friend lamented “what her life could have been if she had been able to decide whether and when to have children.” After graduating, YoVanna eagerly returned to the region as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama.

“Solo traveling made me feel powerful! It gave me the courage to pursue all kinds of opportunities. The connections I made with people in the places I visited were what motivated my desire to help improve the quality of life for women in Latin America. It’s why I joined the Peace Corps, it’s why I pursued a graduate degree in Latin American studies, and it informs the work I do at Population Connection.”

From student to sage

In 2018, one of YoVanna’s women’s studies professors at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (where she graduated with a degree in international studies) recommended that she apply to attend our annual Capitol Hill Days advocacy event. She joined us in DC and had a revelation while listening to the inspiring speakers and advocacy trainers that her voice, as a Black woman, mattered deeply.

She says, “I was so proud of myself that I lobbied my members of Congress. Lobbying had previously felt so impossible and like something only a white man in a suit who made lots of money could do.” This experience showed her how much of an impact she could have as a constituent, and that political engagement was something that she could — and should — participate in, too. Now, YoVanna loves working with students to develop their organizing and advocacy skills, believing that “we can really influence how someone’s political identity is developed.”

A highlight for YoVanna of her first tenure with us was helping to facilitate the Summer of HER organizing program. She says, “Summer of HER was incredible — it was such an exciting challenge to lead in that way and to help develop the programming and build relationships with Summer of HER leaders.”

YoVanna is looking forward to being part of rolling out our 2024 #Fight4HER campaign from the early planning stages through to the general election. She’s eager to reconnect with old contacts and to form relationships with new volunteers in our six target districts. “I thrive most as an organizer in making one-on-one connections!”

We are grateful to have YoVanna as part of our team, and we look forward to all that she’ll contribute to Population Connection this year and beyond.

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