In honor of Black History Month, we honored the strong Black Women working in sexual health.
We commit to continue to honor the trailblazing Black Women in our field, and we're also committed to honor Women of Color.
We will continue recognizing those courageous women, our pillars of our community, and the institutions that are driving progress in our field--and we want to encourage you to do the same! We are highlighting the people and organizations who help drive the field - and who make a healthier, safer, more just world for young people.
We’ll take nominations of women of color and organizations led by and supporting women of color that work so tirelessly, persistently, in sexual health. Email Tamara or Madison with your nominated person or institution, and contact information. We'll highlight the week's nominees in a growing post honoring the amazing women of color in our field.
Nadiyah Barrow and Christina Worthington
Nadiyah Barrow and Christina Worthington are sexual assault survivors and advocates from Durham, NC. They founded the support group Worthy Women on the campus of North Carolina Central University nearly 4 1/2 years ago. The purpose for the support group is to have a safe space for women to heal after experiencing sexual assault and/or abuse. Since then, they have created an apparel line that encompasses many items that serve as a reminder that you are still worthy of self love and happiness. It is their mission to create a culture of consent and help women reclaim their voice and their power back after traumatic incidents.
Candace Bond-Theriault, Esq., LL.M.
Senior Policy Counsel, Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice Democracy Project Director
Candace Bond-Theriault is a writer, yogi, lipstick enthusiast, and aspiring optimist. She is the senior policy counsel for Reproductive Rights, Health, and Justice, and the democracy project director at the National LGBTQ Task Force where she works through a black queer feminist lens to create change and shift culture towards intersectional liberation. Candace received her LL.M. degree in politics and legislation from the American University Washington College of Law, her J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law, and her B.A. in Human Rights with a focus on race, gender, and sexuality from the College of William and Mary. Her writing has appeared in the Advocate, the Grio, SELF magazine, and the Huffington Post. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and the cutest yorkie you've ever seen.
Carla Mena received her Bachelor of Science in Biology degree from Meredith College. Currently, she works at the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research as a bilingual project coordinator, where she serves as the project coordinator of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). The NC Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Branch, funded TPPI and PREP to prevent teenage pregnancy and HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) transmission among youth, ages 13-17, in Craven County, North Carolina.
As a strong advocate for social justice and equity, she is continuously involved in public health research projects related to minority disparities and volunteers in many community outreach programs. She currently serves in leadership roles on various community organizations dedicated to improving the well-being of minorities in North Carolina. Previously, she served as a reproductive health educator at El Pueblo Inc, which collaborated with SHIFT NC, formerly known as APPCNC, to organize community forums and conferences.
Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant
Today we honor Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant, who passed this February 15.
Dr. Grant was a media psychologist, counselor, and advocate for sex education. Her Essence magazine column, Sexual Health, impacted three decades of readership. Dr. Grant earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in counseling and behavioral science, as well as a doctorate in both theology and education. Her career covered assertiveness training, multicultural issues, affirmative action, sexual harassment issues, elder care, stress management, parenting, human sexuality, male-female relationships, and sex-role stereotyping. She put her expertise to work for a number of Fortune 500 companies and on the talk show circuit. Her book, The Best Kind of Loving: A Black Woman’s Guide to Finding Intimacy, published in 1995 is still in print, as readers find her no-nonsense wisdom relevant today.
She also conducted research and studied for a year at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Sciences at the University of New Jersey’s Medicine and Dentistry College. She was active in a variety of organizations, including the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Council of Negro Women. In the words of Susan L. Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence, “Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant was an irrepressible enthusiast with a needed disregard for convention,” who was “as fly as she was fearless and courageous.”
Thank you for your strength, inspiration, and wisdom, Dr. Grant—rest in peace.
Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology, was the sixteenth Surgeon General of the United States, the first African American and only the second woman to head the U.S. Public Health Service.
Elders did an internship in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, and in 1961 returned to the University of Arkansas for her residency. Elders became chief resident in charge of the all-white, all-male residents and interns. Her research in pediatric endocrinology led her to study of sexual behavior and advocacy on behalf of adolescents. She helped her patients to control their fertility and advised them on the safest time to start a family.
Governor Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Elders head of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987. As she campaigned for clinics and expanded sex education, she caused a storm of controversy among conservatives and some religious groups. Yet, largely because of her lobbying, in 1989 the Arkansas Legislature mandated a K-12 curriculum that included sex education, substance-abuse prevention, and programs to promote self-esteem. From 1987 to 1992, she nearly doubled childhood immunizations, expanded the state's prenatal care program, and increased home-care options for the chronically or terminally ill.
In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Elders U.S. Surgeon General. Despite opposition from conservative critics, she was confirmed and sworn in on September 10, 1993. During her fifteen months in office she continued to bring controversial issues up for debate. As she later concluded, change can only come about when the Surgeon General can get people to listen and talk about difficult subjects.
She returned to the University of Arkansas as a faculty researcher and professor of pediatric endocrinology at the Arkansas Children's Hospital. In 1996 she wrote her autobiography, Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America.
Now retired from practice, she is a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, and remains active in public health education.
Kia Thacker, MPH, has a passion for public health, social justice and health equity. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill and a Master of Public Health Degree with a concentration in Community Health Education from UNC Greensboro. Her specific interests are working to build the capacity of organizations to support prevention and best practice strategies and working with professionals and systems that serve marginalized youth to help all youth make healthy and informed decisions.
In her current role with SHIFT NC, Kia serves as the Director of Priority Populations where she works to improve sexual health outcomes for vulnerable youth in North Carolina. She currently manages SHIFT NC’s Every Teen Counts Initiative, an OAH (Office of Adolescent Health) funded project that focuses on building the organizational and programmatic capacities of the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems in North Carolina to better integrate evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs and strategies within these two systems.
Kia previously worked as the Priority Populations Coordinator on SHIFT NC’s 5-year joint CDC and OAH funded project, Gaston Youth Connected, where she managed youth outreach, outreach to the most high-risk populations in Gaston County and provided technical assistance to community implementation partners. She also successfully coordinated the local youth leadership team, the Teen Action Council, which has since been sustained by the local health department.
Prior to joining SHIFT NC, Kia worked in the field of substance abuse prevention where she planned and facilitated prevention programs in schools and communities, coordinated professional development trainings and provided technical assistance to organizations and coalitions implementing substance abuse prevention programs and environmental prevention strategies.
Martina Sconiers-Talbert has over 8 years of experience working in the field of public health. She is the Cape Fear Regional Coordinator for the March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign. As a coordinator she is inspired to share educational topics of preconception health with health care providers, adolescents and the community. She serves on multiple coalitions throughout the Cape Fear region to include the SHIFTNC North Carolina Youth Connected project based in Cumberland County.
She previously worked for Cumberland County Department of Public Health where soon became the “birth control expert” she focused on reducing teen pregnancy using evidence-based comprehensive sexual health education throughout the community. She has eagerly supported undergraduate and graduate level students in meeting requirements for graduation at various universities in the area. Martina is passionate about reproductive health and adolescent health issues. She is a proud alumna of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and Walden University. In her spare time she enjoys time with family and friends, mentoring, traveling, attending concerts and various other entertainment.
Dr. DeVetta Holman has held leadership positions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for over 30 years and has been the recipient of many decorated awards within UNC’s Student Affairs. Her passion and primary responsibility is student success and academic achievement. In this role, she ensures that each student successfully navigates their UNC experience both in and out of the classroom and serves as a life skills coach.
As a professionally trained health educator and primary prevention specialist, DeVetta earned her B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as her Masters Degree in Public Health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health. She earned her Ph.D. degree from North Carolina A&T State University in Leadership Studies. It is her dissertation, “Perception Analytics of African American Male Students' Personal Agency, emphasizing self-concept and its relevance to personal agency in the classroom, which propels her to educate, mentor and affirm the lived experiences of historically marginalized middle school students. Her professional, community, and civic engagement all support the premise that academic achievement, critical thinking and high expectations converge to shift the paradigm in developing and molding future 21st century leaders.
DeVetta is certified by the Drug and Alcohol Institute, the HIV/AIDS Higher Education Leadership Forum, and as a National Addiction Prevention Specialist. In addition to her other responsibilities, she has served as manager of the North Carolina Governor’s Academy for Prevention Professionals, officially recognized by the Annapolis Coalition for Innovation in Workforce Development. DeVetta has served on the Board of Directors for SHIFTNC for many years as a leader in adolescent pregnancy prevention where she has met with North Carolina legislators, community leaders, educators, clinicians, and families to adopt evidence-based approaches to teen pregnancy prevention.
Dr. Holman’s inspiring work with students positions her to be an asset as she provides hands-on leadership in counseling, advocating, advising, mentoring, nurturing and guiding students. Her years of professional experience as a counselor and educator, along with her genuine concern for students’ well-being, enhances the learning and living environments of adolescents and young adults. She is member of UNC General Alumni Association.
Jamika Lynch was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in rural Columbus County, NC. She began her professional career as the Program Coordinator at the Columbus County’s DREAM Center, a local non-profit organization. She is a Health Educator for the Columbus County Department of Public Health.
Lynch’s loyalty to commitment to sexual health education can be associated with the reduced rate of teenage pregnancy in Columbus County. This rate has fallen over 13 percent since her start in adolescent sexual health. In Columbus County, Lynch is responsible for the facilitation of sexual and reproductive health education to adolescents. She is continuously honing her skills to be of the best service to youth. Lynch’s familiar presence is both welcomed and appreciated among the youth in her community and her colleagues statewide.
Alicia is currently working as a Youth Development Educator with Wake County’s Cooperative Extension 4-H Program, specializing in sexuality education. As a trained and experienced Public Health Sexologist, she is passionate about educating and cultivating an environment where sexuality education methods and comprehensive programming is adopted and integrated into traditional sectors. With a Public Health Education degree from NC Central University and a Master of Education degree in Human Sexuality Studies from Widener University, Alicia has merged her love of public health education and the complex support of sexuality studies. She loves planning programs and events that are effective and relevant for all populations. She also enjoys talking about the things that people do not want to talk about, SEX and SEXUALITY.
It is with this passion, she is motivated to expose the community-at-large on how sexuality impacts total well-being through holistic, sex-positive strategies and methods. Alicia has 10 years of experience working in the Public Health/Sexual Health field as a programmatic expert, developing and implementing community education for youth and adults. Alicia was honored to be one of the few called to execute the vision of her mentor, Tanya Bass, during the inception of the North Carolina Sexual Health Conference, serving over 400 professionals in 2016 and 2017. In addition, Alicia has provided her expertise to assist with the planning and consultation of other statewide sexuality-themed conferences and social health events.
Alicia recognizes the unspoken need for quality sexuality/sexual health education and professional development opportunities in NC, and the Southeastern region of this country, which has prompted her to execute her vision of operating as an independent consultant in this field. This new venture will allow Alicia to work toward executing her vision to engage communities by navigating courageous conversations to address sexual health disparities, which impact the public's health and sexual well-being. Alicia's goal is to normalize the conversations related to sexuality and motivating the community to recognize the importance of understanding and applying the knowledge that one's total well-being is impacted by the comprehension of their sexual beingness. She continues to live by her undergraduate alma mater’s motto, “Truth and Service”. She is committed to educating the communities and being an asset to those in need, on all levels. Alicia hopes her work will be able to free people for the bondage of oppression and lack of knowledge. She believes freedom lies in the power of communication and knowledge. Her philosophy is to “be free of ignorance, be free of fear, and be free to love with a side of compassion”.
Dr. Donna Oriowo (Oreo-Whoa!) is a keynote speaker, clinical social worker, sex and relationship educator and therapist in the Washington D.C. metro area. Dr. Donna is the owner and lead therapist of AnnodRight, whose mission it is to help others reclaim their sexuality, identity, and self love by being their most wise, free, and authentic selves in addressing intersectionality, culture, and race in educational and therapeutic settings. She loves books, unsalted pretzels, penne pasta, great quotes, travelling, doing therapy, learning, and teaching. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Annodright. OR you can always visit her (day or night) at www.AnnodRight.com
Gabrielle Evans, MPH, CHES, and Shemeka Thorpe, MS, of The Minority Sex Report.
In Case You Don’t Know: “The Minority Sex Report is a space for people of color to have conversations about sexuality freely. Our goal is to provide representation in sexuality education.”
Shemeka and Gabrielle fearlessly facilitate workshops and presentations on a variety of salient subjects such as Consent, Sex-Positive Approaches, and Black and Native Women’s Sexuality. Their audiences are online and IRL, and are as diverse as fraternities, faith-based communities, and physicians. Both women bring an acuity and sense of humor to our challenging efforts, and for this, and the thousand other great things they do, we honor them. We continue to be inspired by and in awe of their work.
In Case You Don’t Know: Michelle is our Director of Clinic Improvement Services, whose work in HIV/AIDS won her 2017’s coveted Red Pump Award for her efforts to raise awareness and education in the community.
Michelle continues to bring her expertise and educator’s eye to her work, from mobilizing teen pregnancy prevention efforts in Gaston County to improving clinical services for teens and beyond. She has more than 22 years of experience working in adolescents reproductive health issues. While working in Gaston County, she worked to reduce the impact of HIV by providing counseling and testing, and by managing non-traditional HIV testing programs, reaching people in nightclubs, hotels, and other community settings. She followed that work by leading community mobilization efforts to reduce teen pregnancy through the Gaston Youth Connected initiative. Michelle has served as a master trainer with the North Carolina School Health Training Center for 19 years, and has mentored sexual health young professionals for 12 years. We honor her for her steadfast efforts to improve the health of young people, and the ability of communities, educators, and clinicians to support adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Tanya Bass, Southern Sexologist
In Case You Don’t Know: With over 20 years of public health education experience, Tanya Bass is a subject matter expert in the areas of minority health, pregnancy prevention, HIV/STDs and reproductive/sexual health. She is a tireless advocate for reducing health disparities. She is an alumna of North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) Department of Public Health Education, where she has served as an adjunct instructor for the past 15 years. Tanya is working towards her doctoral degree in Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University in an effort to identify and bring attention to societal and environmental factors impacting sexual health and sexual behavior. She is a highly requested trainer, facilitator and mentor. Tanya Bass is illimitable - truly someone who continues to trail blaze through the sexual health thickets of North Carolina: we honor her!
Want to nominate someone - or yourself? Contact Tamara or Madison . This project is coordinated by Tamara Robertson, MPH, CHES, Capacity Building Specialist - Foster Care System, Madison Ward Willis, MPA, NC Youth Connected Community Coordinator, and Sam Peterson, Marketing and Outreach Specialist.
As an organization, we prioritize bringing race, oppression, and inequity to our internal conversations – whether we’re talking about health disparities or eliminating coercion from contraceptive counseling or the ways our own staff and partners have experienced racism, homophobia, religious discrimination, and other forms of oppression.
We are proud to work with community partners who work directly to challenge oppression in all its forms. We condemn the overt promotion of racism and anti-Semitism, and the willingness of many to offer silent, tacit approval to those voices.
Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We take that admonition to heart. At this moment in particular, we want to distance our work from silence and shine light on those leading the way to challenge hate.
SHIFT NC stands strongly in solidarity with communities and organizations opposing all forms of inequity and exclusion based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We believe that speaking out against oppression is an essential step toward making real change. We also know that oppression, inequity, and exclusion impact us, and they impact the young people we serve.
Bearing Witness to Our Common History
Racism, bias, and bigotry have no place in a just and healthy society. Unfortunately, there is a long history of racism and violation in our field and we see the ongoing impact when we do our work.
A few years ago, SHIFT NC conducted a door-to-door community survey about local views on teen pregnancy prevention. As our staff interviewed an older woman – an older white woman – she explained that teen pregnancy was only a problem among black girls. When our staff provided her with data proving that, in fact, the community had more white teen pregnancies, the response was, “oh, but the fathers are all black.” Again, most of the fathers were white. This story is not unique.
Modern gynecology itself was built from experiments on enslaved women. Even today, statues honor the perpetrator of those experiments rather than his enslaved victims, Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy and many more women whose names are lost in time. Devastating experiments on Puerto Rican women and African-American men fueled early understanding of contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections. More recently – within many of our lifetimes – North Carolina’s eugenics program was considered a justifiable public health strategy to reduce pregnancies deemed undesirable by white decision makers.
The legacy of this history is still visible. We see it in assumptions about who’s getting pregnant. We see it in a willingness to provide comprehensive sex education in alternative schools while preferring abstinence-only education in traditional schools. We see it when communities of color are justifiably hesitant to engage with public health agencies.
First, we need to commit to having hard conversations with each other about how racism impacts our work, as well as the youth we serve and the professionals with whom we work. We also need to engage young people to do the same.
Helping Young People Grow Up Healthy
Although it’s a sad truth to reckon with, some young people are learning to hate – at home, in their communities, and, increasingly, on the Internet. We saw many young faces willingly display that hate in the open in Charlottesville, Boston, and other cities. We need to recognize that racism and bigotry don’t belong solely to past generations.
We must help create opportunities for young people to understand the world and the people around them and, ultimately, reject and address racism and bigotry. There’s no foolproof, evidence-based program for this, but we know that silence isn’t an option. We encourage ongoing conversation, research, and innovation to help us understand how to eliminate these elements from the lives of young people.
We Are With You
Finally, we want to express our solidarity with you.
For our partners who are people of color, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities: we cherish you, we stand with you, and we want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and we are listening.
For all our partners who work directly to support young people: we are so grateful for you. The lessons you provide help young people develop a sense of respect, community, responsibility, and empathy. Your support helps young people understand that they are valued. Moreover, you’re helping your communities understand the importance of serving adolescents and young adults.
For all our partners leading conversations to challenge racism and oppression: we applaud you. You are strengthening and setting a standard for our future.
We strongly believe that conversation, education, and action can make a difference. Sitting in that woman’s living room as we were going door-to-door, we heard her repeat what she had heard about teen pregnancy and race. We met her misperception with facts. We also listened to her and used the perspective to shape the community conversation on teen pregnancy.
The events in Charlottesville and the conversations that have followed tell us that we, both as people and as an organization, need to talk more about race, about experiences of discrimination, and about how to build a more just – and healthy – society. We are committed to challenging racism and inequity one step at a time. We look forward to working with you to make North Carolina a better place for our young people.
Additional resources on racism and sexual health:
Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in US Healthcare: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/USA/INT_CERD_NGO_USA_17560_E.pdf
Advocates for Youth Resources for Youth of Color: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/topics-issues/youth-of-color?task=view
Ending White Supremacy in Ourselves: A Time for Nonprofit Action: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2017/08/14/ending-white-supremacy-nonprofit-action/