Bilen Mesfin Packwood, CEO of Change Consulting LLC, makes it her life’s work to thrust social and racial justice campaigns into the public eye. Packwood uses the experiences of Black people directly impacted by issues such as maternal mortality and police brutality to bring awareness to them. Yet, her own experiences as a Black mother inspire her to do this work.
Change Consulting is a communications firm that provides services to racial and social justice organizers so that their visions can be amplified on a larger scale. Through the firm, Packwood helped the Black Organizing Project bring their 10-year push for police-free schools into a tangible provision. The George Floyd Resolution of 2020 made the Oakland Unified School District the first district in the country to eliminate an entire school police department. Packwood said she believes police aren’t in schools to protect students, but criminalize them.
“There should not be avenues for a school to start a prison pipeline with school resource officers. If we think about schools that are really thriving in high income neighborhoods, what makes them thrive is not police. It’s resources for things like counselors, enough teachers, books and school nurses - things that kids really need to grow up healthy and take advantage of education opportunities,” said Packwood.
However, school districts are now turning toward police as a resolution to ensure students’ safety following the Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting. Packwood has a 4-year-old daughter of her own. There’s no telling what legislation will look like by the time her daughter is off to school, however, Packwood plans to use her work to ensure her safety.
“She definitely will be going to school. So, that is one of the things I think about - How can I make sure that she gets the best experience? Not just her, but every Black girl. I’m very aware of the hurdles she may face throughout school, throughout her life, throughout her career. How do I mitigate that in some small way through the contributions of our work?” Packwood said.
Another campaign Change Consulting worked on was Deliver Birth Justice with the help of five local Bay Area counties. The campaign used the stories of Black families and mothers as a tool to highlight issues facing Black mothers and babies and the systems responsible for fixing them. At the same time, they aimed to give hope to Black mothers by providing joyful stories of motherhood. Packwood joined the project not too long after she had given birth. Though, she identified with feeling of being unsupported in the medical space.
“I felt like the birthing journey actually opened my eyes to a new area of institutional racism. It is true that our concerns are not heard. It is true that you think there’s something wrong [with you]. I actually thought it was a ‘me’ issue,” Packwood said. “It’s not just a personal problem. When we think about systemic racism or institutional racism, it’s really a societal problem.”
Packwood’s work within the past two years exemplifies what it really means to be “pro-life.” Though she identifies as pro-choice, her efforts with local visionaries ultimately foster a nurturing environment for life outside the womb. Students’ safety threatened in schools, inaccessible healthcare and income equality are all factors she believes jeopardize a chance at a healthy life.
“I think there’s so much we can do as a country - also so much that I think advocates and organizers are fighting for across the life course - that we can support to truly redefine the idea of what pro-life means,” said Packwood.