Written by Jenesis Foster, summer intern and former Girls at the Center Youth Advisory Council member
Advocacy, as defined by current USAID Administrator Samantha Power, is “at its core, an exercise in empathy.” The act ensures that the voices of those who have been ignored are heard and that the needs of those who have been marginalized are met. And in my passion to be a human being who is understanding of the heart one must possess to truly advocate for the underserved members of my community, state, and country, I decided in my junior year of high school that my voice could be a detriment or an aid. I have since worked with the Alabama Campaign to build a network and platform that advocates for proper sex education, information, and resources for students.
I find it important to express just how crucial my perspective as a student has been in my drive to become a better advocate. Growing up in Alabama, there was a lack of information and resources regarding sex education – in my experience, the course is typically entitled Health Education and fails to place much focus on sex-ed at all. When there are lessons on sex education, they address abstinence as the only solution. With 86% of the state’s population being of the Christian faith, abstinence-based teachings are not surprising, but there has to come a point where there is an understanding of the reality of the lives led by students.
Living in the digital age, access to sexual content has been made easier as it is at the forefront of almost every movie and television series. But when there is no proper teaching of a topic, these fictional scenarios become the standard for young and impressionable minds. And as a result of a lack of actual facts, there are severe gaps in knowledge between the citizens of the state of Alabama when compared to others in understanding health in relationships, reproduction, and sexually transmitted infections. So it comes as no shock that as of March 2022, STI rates had increased among those in the age range of 15 to 24 and as of July 2022, Alabama ranked as the state with the 5th highest teen birth rate in the United States.
In my time with the Alabama Campaign for Adolescent Sexual Health, I have been connected with fellow activists who support and share my ideas, goals, and passion to create positive change. Subsequently, I’ve come to the realization that we must work to make learning about uncomfortable topics as comfortable as possible. That means that one of the keys to helping young people grow is focusing on every aspect of life and adulthood. And ultimately, providing a safe and inclusive space for all students to share their opinions. By putting aside personal feelings and notions in favor of candor, we can help improve the quality of life for each generation to come.