In August, Nevada lost a crusader for women’s rights and abortion access who also was a health care advocate for those with diabetes.
Mylan Hawkins, 83, a prominent political and social activist, nonprofit organization leader and mentor to many budding activists, died on Aug. 26 at the age of 83. She leaves a legacy of caring for the people of our state that will echo down through generations. In my case, she affected the arc of my life.
I met Mylan in the fall of 1990 while I was a freshman at University of Nevada, Reno, and beginning to get politically active. After watching hundreds of pro-life activists form a human chain waving pro-life signs on South Virginia Street, I joined a few friends and responded in kind, showing up at the location with pro-choice signs and calling ourselves “Students for Choice.”
At the time, Mylan was running the statewide Question 7 campaign, a ballot initiative that made sure any changes to the law that guarantees abortion access can’t be made without a vote of the people. Those were heady days for reproductive rights, as the two Nevada Democratic leaders, then-Gov. Bob Miller and the late Sen. Harry Reid, held anti-abortion positions, and local abortion providers were being threatened with bounties on their heads and daily picketers at their clinics.
Mylan trusted me to organize several high-profile street demonstrations that attracted media attention; she also supplied me with pro-choice signs and talking points on the ballot initiative, which passed with more than 63 percent of the vote. It protects reproductive freedom in Nevada to this day.
Those experiences and her mentorship laid the groundwork for my political endeavors in the years to come, which included opportunities for me to manage several local and legislative political campaigns, and attend the 1996 Democratic National Convention as a delegate-at-large from Nevada.
My case wasn’t unusual. Mylan was a leader and a teacher who could harness the passion of others and empower them to make lasting changes.
Although her life was devoted to women’s rights, from running the Nevada pro-ERA campaign in the late ’70s to organizing one of the first local Reno Women’s Marches five years ago, she also was a pioneer in providing resources for those with diabetes. She co-founded, along with her late husband, Prince Ashton Hawkins, the Diabetic Educational Center to address the lack of available diabetes support services. This later grew into the Nevada and California Diabetes Association, which as of last year had saved more than $6.5 million in emergency medical supplies and helped more than 20,000 people. Mylan served as its executive director for nearly two decades and provided camps, support programs, emergency medical services, and information/referral services.
She was always advocating on behalf of women and children’s healthcare. She founded Project Survival, an organization that helped build a modern neonatal center at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital, and was the director of medical programs for the United Way of Dade County in Miami. While in Philadelphia she worked with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Later in her life, she helped found Northern Nevada Marches Forward, a nonprofit volunteer-led organization with a mission to support, spotlight and uplift the voices and power of diverse people and communities to create transformative social change.
A time ‘to make our voices heard’
Mylan was honored with a proclamation by the Nevada State Legislature by State Sen. Pat Spearman on Sept. 9. The Nevada Diabetes Association recently announced the “2022 Mylan Hawkins Diabetes Community Impact Award,” which recognizes an individual who has shown dedication and distinction in shaping the future of diabetes in our community.
In January, anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Row v. Wade, she wrote a guest editorial in the Reno Gazette-Journal: “Without Roe, millions of women across the country will lose access to reproductive health care,” she noted. “The overwhelming majority of Nevadans support a woman’s right to choose, but we cannot take our state’s protections for granted when anti-choice extremists have made it clear they won’t stop until abortion is outlawed nationwide. … Now is the time to step up, make our voices heard, and vote.”
Mylan was like a second mother to me and a mentor to many other activists, candidates and health-care advocates. She worked right up to the end. She helped me plan a fundraising event for a local progressive candidate a month before she died.
Many in our community join me in feeling a deep sense of loss over Mylan’s sudden death. However, we know her legacy will live on.
Mylan was fond of saying: “Get your ass out in the streets!” It is our job now to take up that call.
Donations in Mylan’s name can be made to either the Nevada Diabetes Association (https://diabetesnv.org/donate-22/) or Northern Nevada Marches Forward (https://northernnevadamarchesforward.org/donate/).
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on Oct. 19 to clarify the purpose of the 1990 Question 7 ballot measure.