Above: Essential Access co-CEOs and staff standing with partners and supporting Congressional Champions at the reintroduction of the Right to Contraception Act on Capitol Hill. Left to right: Lauren Hill, Nomsa Khalfani, Amy Moy, and Sylvia Castillo (photo courtesy of Nomsa Khalfani)

Nomsa Khalfani (photo courtesy of Richard Reetz)

Nomsa Khalfani has always looked for ways to try to make other people’s lives better.  

“If there’s something I can water and watch it mature, that’s what I do,” she said. 

She is able to achieve this goal in her position as co-chief executive officer of Essential Access Health. The 55-year-old organization advances health equity and promotes quality sexual and reproductive health care for all by supporting health clinics in California and Hawaii with programs and services including clinic support initiatives, provider trainings, advanced clinical research, advocacy, and more. 

“We want to make sure that everyone has access to sexually transmitted infection prevention, sexual and reproductive health care, and abortion access without stigma or barriers,” she said. 

Khalfani began working at Essential Access nine years ago as vice president of programs and strategic initiatives, rose to executive vice president, and then became chief strategy and equity officer before landing her current position.

The work has become more difficult over the years, she said. 

“Access to abortion and contraception are political targets,” she said. “There’s always a fight to defend access to essential health care.” 

She and her colleagues must keep their fingers on the pulse of pressing and emerging issues and figure out how best to work to change hearts, minds, and actions.

Khalfani gets her inspiration from her grandmothers, who grew up in the South and “wanted something better and different for their future generations.” 

She was born in Los Angeles and lives there with her husband, whom she met in high school and reconnected with years later. She loves spending time with him, her adult daughter, and her close circle of “sister-girlfriends that I laugh and cry with.” 

A membership session at the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association 2023 conference. (Photo courtesy of elm studio)

When she graduated from high school, she was expected to go to UCLA, but she decided to attend UC Santa Cruz sight unseen for a new experience. It was a culture shock to say the least. She remembers feeling stunned to see cows grazing when she drove up and it dawned on her that this experience would be much different than what she had known in the big city.  

“I started to cry, thinking, ‘What did I do? Why I am here? What is going on?’” she said.

At first, she thought she would transfer the next year. But she soon developed her “tribe of support” by getting involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the Black Student Union, and she ended up enjoying university life.  

She credits the university with teaching her how to use her voice. 

“It was a campus where folks had sit-ins if there was an issue but came together to support each other when needed,” she said. 

She went on to earn a master’s degree in marriage, family, and child therapy from Phillips Graduate University and a doctoral degree in human services from Capella University. 

Khalfani continues to meet many Banana Slugs professionally. 

“Santa Cruz turns out some amazing individuals, and I’m proud to be one of them,” she said. “It was a good foundation to set me on the path for success.”

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