We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Rokeshia Renné Ashley and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dr. Ashley, the decisions we make often shape our story in profound ways. What was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make?
In 2011, my then partner and I made the decision to terminate our pregnancy at about 10 weeks gestation. At 19 years old and a first-generation college sophomore I was not emotionally, financially, or mentally capable to continue the responsibility of raising a child. I found myself in the position because I was irresponsible and regrettably, but gratefully, did not continue the pregnancy. In Florida, a woman is allowed to terminate her pregnancy up to 24 weeks, in comparison to the state of Texas, Senate Bill 8 limits abortion care to 6 weeks of pregnancy.

Recently, I decided to speak about my abortion, because if I did not have the option my life and career would have been completely different. Also, in my scholarship as a professor at Florida International University, I often advocate for autonomy for Black women in how they choose to govern their bodies. In states like Texas or Missouri, women do not have the same self-governance.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I entered college at the University of Florida in 2009 with the mission of becoming a lawyer. Gradually I became more curious about different questions concerning the experiences I was having related to dress, gender, and race. This curiosity was nourished while I was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. This program truly changed the course of my life. Fall of 2010 I interviewed to be a McNair Scholar. While in my interview, I forced a smile and withheld the urge to spew the waffles I ate that morning. I was pregnant. A 19-year-old, first generation student wishing to be granted the opportunity to pursue research. With thoughts of how ineligible I felt because of immature decisions, and the lack of readiness of my partner and I, we decided to terminate our pregnancy.
I was accepted to be a Scholar and a week before my start date, my father passed. Needless to say my sophomore year was emotionally challenging. But God gave me McNair and although no one knew what was happening, this group gave me a family, led by the Dr. Samesha Barnes Ivey, when I was grieving the patriarch of my own and unborn child. I remember Ms Ronda cooking me breakfast many mornings and I know they both prayed for me. My mentor Dr. Julie E. Dodd kept me on track with my research and still gives me great advice and even sows into my daughter.

Even beyond my time as a scholar, I reap the benefits of choosing this path. Negotiating the feelings of gratitude and grief simultaneously have been an interesting experience. Although, regretfully, I am grateful for the sacrifices because participating in McNair for two years provided a lifetime of incredible opportunities and achievements.

I continued my education at the University of Delaware, then earned my doctorate at the University of Missouri-Columbia. While completing my doctorate I bore my daughter Emery during my second year of study. As an only parent, I was responsible for her growth and my progress. Continuing my doctoral studies, I remember pumping breast milk during my qualifying exams and even defending my dissertation with her on my hip. I am eternally grateful for my dissertation chair, Dr. Yong Volz, Dr. Earnest Perry, my dissertation committee, cohort and other graduate students, and those who participated in my “meal train” postpartum. Dr. Sharline Mashack, who was and is my sister and therapist; Tranise McDaniel, who is my check point; and Rochelle for always picking up the phone and listening.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that your growth and progress is due to determination and consistency but it is also predicated on the community that supports you. The wins I receive are only possible because of the people who sow into my growth.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Miami is a tourist destination that can be overwhelming and is constantly changing, but what will forever remain consistent is the beach. The beach is one of my favorite places to reflect and rejuvenate. Falling asleep in the sand (with sunscreen), cleansing my body and spirit with the water, reciting quiet prayers, and listening to the waves meeting the surface provide peace and renewed power.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicate this shout out to my daughter, Emery. Although, I was always successful in many pursuits, when I was granted the opportunity to be her mother, she shifted my ideology on how I governed myself as a human, and is a mirror for who I am and how I interact with the world. Her being pushes me to create new goals for my self, legacy, and community.

Website: www.keshiaphd.com

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/keshiaphd

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KeshiaPhD

Image Credits
Willie F. Photography

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