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Preserving a Dying Legacy

October 2010
By: Tera Hilliard

"I am a Black American and a great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, who led the poorest and most illiterate among his race up from slavery shortly after the end of the Civil War. When I speak on his legacy, I reflect on the fact that the history of our race in the United States has always been about the push for life, for survival. By opening a new clinic in the heart of the black community, the Westside Pregnancy Clinic in West Los Angeles, CA (WPC) is answering a call in a community that has largely been without a voice on this issue." Gloria Jackson, great granddaughter of Booker T. Washington

If you sense God is calling you to serve an urban area by opening a pregnancy clinic, here are a few things to consider:

Do not do anything without prayer. Get your board, staff, supporters, and local pastors to begin praying about the vision.

Make sure you select the right person for the job. Search for someone who has a heart for the community and is well connected.

Consider all costs associated with the project. Secure initial startup fees before you move to action.

Find tangible opportunities for volunteers to help with the project (architects, contractors, brokers, real estate attorneys, etc.).

Stay encouraged when things get rough. Remember, if God called you, He will sustain you!  

The legacy of the black family is under siege. Violence, infant mortality, drug addictions, and poverty have declared war on families in urban communities such as South Los Angeles. This community has been federally designated as a Medically Underserved Area. The morality and ultimately the hope of the black families residing in this community have deteriorated.

A much more silent epidemic, however, is that Black Americans have slowly embraced the genocide of their own race by allowing the spirit of Margaret Sanger to resonate and take precedence over the values that black families historically have held. She wrote, "The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it."1

Dr. Martin Luther King stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Abortion presented without options is injustice to all young women and men in underserved communities. Abortion clinics have long swarmed the black community and have presented themselves as the only option to any young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, abortion has impacted the lives of more than 45 million Americans, 16 million of whom were black. Who can argue with the fact that abortion is destroying the black legacy? And one has to wonder, "Does anybody care? Is there any hope for the future?"

Westside Pregnancy Clinic (WPC) has been serving women and men facing unplanned pregnancies in the West Los Angeles area for more than 30 years. Why? Because the volunteers who serve there feel called to invest in their communities and to provide what are, sadly, rare and unique services — education, counseling, support, and most importantly, alternatives to abortion. Unlike many federally funded community-based clinics, WPC does not attempt to solve the problems of its community by dispensing pills, performing abortions, or referring clients to the nearest abortion clinic. This decision disqualifies WPC from receiving federal funds to assist the overwhelming number of individuals who walk into their clinics. At the same time, it is a decision that has allowed WPC the freedom to truly care for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of its clients.

In 2008, WPC sensed an overwhelming urge to expand and replicate existing services by planting a satellite clinic in an underserved community that was in dire need of life-affirming and life-changing services. During these difficult economic times, one might wonder, "Why should we consider opening another location?" This is the question WPC's CEO and Board of Directors wrestled with for many months. They had no idea that they would eventually be led to a community that, in essence, had a death sentence declared over it.

As the WPC leadership began to commit the decision to prayer and to cast the vision, they were keenly aware of the realities: they were devoid of additional funds and staff, they did not have a location, they lacked a multi-faceted strategic plan, and they had no clue about where to start. The most pressing questions became "How do we tackle this giant opportunity? How do we reach a community in need of care as an agency with few resources? How do we educate a community riddled with violence, crime, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? How can this small agency located in a predominantly middle-class, Caucasian community effectively impact a community that is largely comprised of low-income African-Americans?"

Aware of the daunting task before them yet confident of the direction in which they were being led, the folks at WPC almost immediately discovered the community they had been looking for in South Los Angeles. They learned of the needs of the community and found that not even one clinic in the area encouraged sexual integrity or alternatives to abortion. Nor was there a clinic supporting women who were hurting from a past abortion. They discovered that there were at least five abortion providers in and around the community. Furthermore, the community was rather isolated and its residents rarely traveled outside their immediate area for care. After carefully examining these facts, WPC knew this was where their services were most needed. Armed with this knowledge and purpose, the CEO and Board devised a strategic expansion plan to guide them. It included three major goals: securing key leadership, community collaboration, and funding.

WPC's leadership felt extremely convicted to find someone from the South LA area to champion the cause. They knew that they could never be effective in a new community if they did not collaborate with someone who had an understanding of the community as well as a heart and passion for it. WPC vowed not to move forward until they found this key leader.

This is how I was introduced to WPC. I am the product of a single teen mom and an absent father. I was born and raised in South LA, and I know firsthand the impact that teen pregnancy, abortion, abuse, neglect, and poverty can have on a young woman's heart and mind. I am a mother of four who experienced my own first crisis pregnancy at the age of 14. I lived a negative and destructive life because there was nowhere else to turn. If WPC had been in my community when I was a teenager, I know that I would not have made many of the choices I did. I am passionate about this cause, and I have dedicated many years of my life to helping young women in the South LA community break the cycle of teen pregnancy and abuse by empowering them to love who they are and embrace who they were meant to be — strong, confident black women!

In January 2009, I was hired as the South Los Angeles Clinic Director and given the charge to research South LA communities, scout locations, and secure community support. I was instantly drawn to the Crenshaw District, located in the heart of South LA. After much prayer and contemplation, WPC leadership also felt called to this unique community.

Ten years ago, 37 percent of the individuals residing in the Crenshaw District lived under the Federal Poverty Line, and 76 percent of those living below the poverty line were African-American.2 The LA County Department of Health identified African-Americans as having a two-to-three times higher incidence of Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis than others. Almost half of all reported cases of Chlamydia are among African-American men and women. Without access to medical care, these STIs can potentially go unchecked and untreated. This means they may have lasting effects, including infertility, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (which can lead to uterine cancer), and increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.

WPC discovered that this area of LA has one of the highest teen birth rates in the United States at approximately 15.8 per every 1,000 births. It also boasts one of the highest repeat birthrates — 7.6 per every 1,000 births. These factors all indicate the need for a clinic specializing in medical services and education relating to teen pregnancy, STIs, parenting, and sexual integrity. I was confident that WPC's model of care would deeply affect the community, one woman at a time!

Securing a key leader and building strong community partnerships in this community was a top priority. CEO Talitha Phillips states, "We cannot be successful as a clinic without the support of the community. We must invest in the lives of surrounding agencies and form partnerships that will benefit our patients, increase their access to medical care, and increase the availability of pregnancy and parental education as well as support services. WPC is not here to save the community. We are here to partner with churches, clinics, and service agencies to help transform lives."

As a former pregnancy center director and health educator for Los Angeles County Black Infant Health Program, I was able to garner immediate support from local agencies that excitedly embraced the opening of the new clinic. Before we opened in October 2009, we obtained community support and formal collaborations from more than 25 community-based organizations and clinics. Staff and volunteers further saturated the community with postcards advertising the opening of the clinic and its free services. The response was overwhelmingly positive as the community excitedly welcomed us.

We also forged relationships with local churches and political figures. One such partnership was with Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church, Inglewood, CA. He said, "Abortion is an issue that affects us as pastors and ministers of the gospel—because there are men and women in our congregations silently suffering with the pain of their past."

The final goal of the expansion plan was to secure seed money from current supporters to officially launch the project and cover initial costs. The appeal was made through fundraising events, appeal letters, grants, and personal requests. By the spring of 2009, we were able to secure all start-up costs associated with the project. Additionally, we networked with local churches and supporters who provided volunteer services to reduce or eliminate many of the costs associated with the expansion project.

In January 2010, WPC celebrated the opening of the new clinic, which was featured in local newspapers and online publications. Political figures were on hand with certificates of accommodation to commemorate the occasion. The grand opening solidified WPC's presence in the community and garnered strong community alliances and support from local community leaders as well as local celebrities.

WPC is now offering quality medical, counseling, and support services to the clients of South LA. Services include pregnancy testing, early prenatal care, STD testing, parenting, post-abortion and adoption support, and professional counseling.

While we have felt incredible peace throughout the expansion process, there have been many challenges. We've faced incredible opposition that has made us stronger and more confident in our purpose and our unique and non-traditional approach. We seek to treat each client with unconditional love, respect, and kindness. We are here to help her or him make the best decision for their situation — without prejudice. We educate, encourage, and support. That same approach is applied to our partners in the surrounding community, whether it's another clinic, agency, church, or politician. Our message is simple; our motives are clear. The South LA community is starting to see that we truly care and we are not going quit.

We are standing strong in South LA. We are rebuilding a dying legacy by educating Black Americans of all of their options. By collaborating with local agencies, schools, and health care providers, we are creating a safety net of services that will empower individuals to make informed pregnancy and sexual health choices.

"Before I came here, I was sure I would have an abortion. I thought it was my only option and that's what everyone was telling me. But the medical staff and my counselor talked about all of my options. They made me feel so comfortable and really allowed me to make my decision without any pressure. After I left, I made the choice I truly had wanted all along. I knew I would keep my baby." — 15-year old client

Tera K. Hilliard has been working in the non-profit sector for more than 17 years. She has become an advocate for teen pregnancy prevention. Tera is Clinic Director of The Westside Pregnancy Clinic's South Los Angeles location and she is the Assistant Director of The Sisters Ministry. She and her husband work together on various church projects.


1. Margaret Sanger (editor). The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922.

2. South Service Planning Area, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Office of Women's Health, Health Indicators for Women in Los Angeles County: Highlighting Disparities by Ethnicity and Insurance Status, May 2007. 

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