Executive Director Kierra Johnson to Step Down After 10 Years of Visionary Leadership

The Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE) Board of directors today announced that Kierra Johnson will be stepping down as Executive Director.  After 17 years at URGE, and 10 as Executive Director, Kierra will depart at the end of this year to become the Deputy Executive Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“It’s been a joy and an honor to be Executive Director of URGE for the past 10 years and work alongside such amazing young people and dedicated staff,” said Johnson. “There is renewed energy in the reproductive justice and progressive movements and, because of the work we’ve done to center young people, especially young people of color, our movement is fortified with well-trained and highly capable leaders and activists. While it is hard to leave this community I have called home for so many years, I am excited at the possibilities yet to come for URGE under new leadership. As we look to the future, URGE will–innovate, grow, and continue to put young people at the forefront of strategies and solutions that liberate us all.”

“I’m excited for Kierra and URGE at the chance for them both to do new things,” said Dr. Willie Parker, Chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health and author, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice. “I first met Kierra in the midst of her work as a fierce advocate/activist/leader when we both spoke out against the Stupak Amendment on Capitol Hill years ago. I was just finding my activist voice, hers was already full-throated. I also had the privilege of working with her during my brief stint on the Board of URGE during the time that Kierra led the organization through a successful rebranding from its previous identity, Choice USA. I have learned from her leadership, benefitted from her friendship, and I look forward to a continued stand in solidarity with her in her new capacity in the Movement. Since Kierra’s life and work has always been about human rights and justice, she’s not leaving URGE or the Movement. The only “leaving” she’s doing is that of leaving the organization that she has led for the past 10 years strong and well-positioned as a force for change. Kierra is merely changing battlefronts and I look forward to continuing to fight with her for the world we want to live in.”

During her tenure at URGE, some of Johnson’s accomplishments:

  • Led URGE to become a multi-racial, cross-movement organization, with local campaigns to defend DACA, ensure healthcare access for young people, and end transgender discrimination;
  • Launched the Abortion Positive campaign, an unapologetically supportive platform for young people in red states to voice their support for a broad progressive agenda that includes access to abortion;
  • Initiated  issue and organizing trainings that have supported and springboarded over 10,000 people into reproductive justice activism;
  • Grew the organization from nine staff to more than 65 national staff, state organizers, and canvassers working in six states and Washington, DC;
  • Appeared on national TV and radio and testified before Congress.

Colleagues and movement leaders praised Johnson’s appointment.

Longtime colleague Margaret Hempel, Director of Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation, said “Working with Kierra for many years has allowed me to see firsthand the vision she had for URGE play out in real, tangible ways for young people advocating for reproductive justice. For URGE, there is no “hard to reach” community. Their ability to engage honestly and directly with a diversity of young people across urban and rural America and inspire others with their mission to shift culture and change policies for the betterment of all, has made the organization a dynamic partner that will endure for many years to come.”

URGE student alum and intersectional feminist writer Sesali Bowen said, “Kierra has been a constant source of inspiration for me since I met her in 2007 when URGE was still called Choice USA. I can’t think of too many other examples of people who purposely live their truth and stand by what they believe in. She has developed dozens of young people to go out into the world and advocate on behalf of their right to reproductive healthcare and justice.  Kierra will always be part of the URGE family and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

“Kierra’s intersection and innovative approach to movement building is critical and important,” said Katherine Grainger, Principal at Civitas Public Affairs. “Kierra will be an invaluable and vital asset in advancing the Task Force’s work and mission.”

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) Executive Director and close friend, Jessica González-Rojas said, “It has been tremendously rewarding and exciting to see what URGE has brought to the reproductive justice movement with Kierra at the helm. Kierra has been a bold, fierce and fearless leader, transforming this organization’s image, voice and mission into a dynamic, youth-led and youth focused organization. As a friend and partner in the movement for true equity and liberation for all people, I know that the Task Force has gained a brilliant and phenomenal leader and URGE’s vision will continue to be a powerful force for reproductive justice.”  

The organization’s board will institute a search and will appoint an interim executive director toward the end of the year.