Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why You Won’t Find Me in the Maternity Wing: Teen Perspective

When I saw the first episodes of 16 and Pregnant or The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or watched the movie Juno, I was just starting out in high school. It seems that within the last few years, the issue of teen pregnancy has become somewhat mainstream. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t aware of the facts regarding teen pregnancy until then because they didn’t pertain to the 12-and-under crowd. But now, with my 17th birthday less than a month away, I feel somewhat proud of myself and my friends for being high school seniors who haven’t gotten themselves in some sort of crazy trouble. That may sound ridiculous, but I feel that shows like 16 and Pregnant did bring to light the fact that teens do get pregnant, and they showed the difficult truth of being a teen mother. My friends and I talk about how we can scroll down our Facebook or Twitter feeds and see pictures of a 16 year old showing off her growing belly with a caption saying “2 more months!” We all know at least one girl, maybe not personally, that got pregnant at our high school. We see girls showing off engagement rings that are still legally considered minors.

So why did I decide that those paths just aren’t for me? Aside from all those cringe-worthy images, the idea of making any life changing decision makes me want to freak out. I can barely decide where I’m applying to college, and just the thought of bringing a kid into the world anytime soon makes me tense. This is the time in my life where I get to have fun and not have to worry about taxes or babies or paying bills. Why would I want to complicate that?

I’m lucky enough to attend the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville. I could go on all day about how amazing my school is. My teachers and the students encourage me to push myself past my limits and achieve what I never imagined I could. I devote time to what I love, and that commitment motivates me to be the best I can be. So, surrounded by supportive teens who love the same things I do and inspired by those who have come before me, I can stay driven, and I can focus on what really matters to me right now. I’m trying to absorb all that I can while I have the chance, and I won’t let pregnancy become a factor in determining my future.

by Lizzy Rhodes, Summer 2013 Student Volunteer, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Parking Lots and Race Relations

I parked my car out front of our office building Tuesday morning and grabbed my stuff.  As I headed toward the front door, I noticed a young gentleman walking through the parking lot.  I didn’t think much of it - there are often people either headed into work or walking down the street at that time of morning.

The young man and I were walking in opposite directions.  He had his head down and hands in his pockets. I had my phone in hand, checking email as I walked toward the front door.  But as we walked toward each other, I saw him move towards the right, so as not to walk too close to me.  I gave him a quick smile and said, “Good morning” as I passed him.

He replied, “Good morning, Ma’am,” which he immediately followed with, “I’m just looking for my library card.”

This encounter immediately struck me, and I haven’t been able to put my feelings about it down on paper until nearly a week later.  I haven’t known (and still don’t know) the best way to express everything I want to say about it in one little blog post.  The encounter was a seemingly innocent and regular exchange between two strangers passing in the street.  But the importance in the encounter lies in the fact that it showcases the often unrecognized subtleties of racial dynamics in our country.

In light of Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, I have (as I’m sure most people have) witnessed, and sometimes engaged in, recent conversations on race, race relations and racial profiling.  Much of what I think has been missing from these conversations in the past was the assumption that only really racist people and outright discrimination are problems, while we often ignore the day-to-day differences in power, privilege and experience.

The fact that a young black man felt obligated to explain himself and what he was doing walking through a parking lot at 8:50am is an absurd reality of an unsafe and wholly unfair system of racial inequality.  The fact is, as a white woman, I have never once felt the need to distance myself from someone on the street because they might be afraid of me.  And I have certainly never explained why my hands were in my pockets because someone might think I have a weapon.  This difference is not okay.  The fact of the matter is that I could walk down the street at any time of day or night and never be suspected of anything, regardless of where my hands are or what I’m wearing.  Yet many people don’t have this advantage.  This young man was so attuned to the unspoken power differences between us, that he immediately diffused the situation – the situation merely being his presence.  Don’t be threatening.  Don’t make eye contact.  Speak only when spoken to.  Explain yourself.

In the field of teen pregnancy prevention, it is our goal to support and empower youth to make healthy choices for themselves.  But in doing so, we can’t ignore the larger social equality issues at play.  Our lived experiences are different and we need to first recognize that these differences exist before we can address them.  Racial privilege and disadvantage are real and should be talked about.  But we also need to recognize that our youth are not immune - and may even be more vulnerable - to the stark reality of social injustice.  It is my hope that we can address these issues by starting real conversations and openly discussing the role race plays in our experiences, opportunities and daily lives.

By Lesley Craft, Research and Evaluation Graduate Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It’s Time to Pay Attention… Because This Matters!!

Next week, I’ll be joining other Aspen Global Leadership Network fellows from around the globe in Aspen, CO and have been asked to speak on a topic that will certainly garner lots of attention – “Resisting the Mob.”  Given the amazing collection of talent at this meeting, I’m still not sure why I have been asked to be one of the lead discussants (as it is called in the program) but nonetheless, my assigned topic has been responsible for much personal reflection of late.

My reflection has focused on the sex education “debate” in South Carolina.  This is a topic I am well versed in and, in fact, quite often find myself engaged in dialogue that includes some iteration of “How do you do it?  Such controversy!  How do you resist the mob of opponents on this topic in SC?”  But see, herein lies the problem… there is no mob of opponents.  There’s only a (very) vocal minority that wants us to think there is a mob and wants us to believe this is a controversial issue!  In fact, 84% of registered voters in South Carolina support sex education that includes information on both abstinence and contraception.  That’s not controversy… that’s overwhelming support!  Yet, the majority is far too silent on this issue.

While the majority stays silent, critical decisions are being made at the Statehouse and within the SC Department of Education that will have dire consequences for young people in our state.  While the majority stays silent, a very vocal and well-organized minority is dominating the dialogue on sex education to the point that a casual observer might well think there is a controversy.  There’s not!  While the majority stays silent, the concept of providing quality, comprehensive sex education is disappearing from the SC Department of Education.  That’s wrong!

So, why is the majority so silent?  That’s exactly the question I’ve been asking myself lately.  I’m not sure, but I do know this – in order to be successful moving the conversation about quality, comprehensive sex education forward in South Carolina it’s time for us to engage the (real) mob of supporters; time for us to give them a voice, provide them with a safe platform to speak up and time for us to raise the volume on this conversation.  No more making critical decisions about the health and well being of our state’s young people under a veil of secrecy.

Dr. Seuss taught us that “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” (side note: sadly, in preparing this blog, I found out that this quote is misattributed to Dr. Seuss). Well friends, with all due respect to a great quote it’s time to turn that thinking inside out… it’s time for us to mind, because this matters!!

Stay tuned.  I’m not done with this one yet…

By Forrest Alton, Chief Executive Officer, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Another Big Elephant in the Room

I have watched the Trayvon Martin saga over the past 17 months, mostly through the lens of a mother, daughter, sister, and aunt.  I have personally considered the connection that so many of us, but especially families of color, have to this case.  Even if we have not been personally affected by gun violence or racial profiling, most of us understand how hard it is to prepare children for the evils that confront them in the world.   During this case, many of us have discussed race, environment, gun violence, and so many other issues facing our country.  Yet, inside of the courtroom, the judge mandated that race not come up explicitly during trial.  This directive caused both sides to find other ways to describe the fate of this teenager.  The prosecution had to use terms like “profiled” instead of “racially profiled.”  The defense chose to use certain pictures, terms, and witnesses to allude to racial stereotypes and identity.  And, all of the lawyers had to assert that race was not the issue, knowing good and well that it was underlying all that surrounded this case.  Many analysts suggested that race was the “elephant in the room.”  Well the more I think about this case, in addition to the heated racial and cultural issues that continue to exist, but we often fail to adequately address in this country, I also feel that there was another big elephant in the room during this trial – YOUTH and our constant struggle to really connect with and positively influence young people of all races.

I watched lawyers talk to a 19-year-old (Rachel Jeantel) as if she were an alien.  I saw media analysts completely dumbfounded as they tried to understand this young lady’s experience as a black teen in South Florida who spoke 3 languages and had a Haitian background.  Not only was everyone trying to process her cultural experiences, they also could not understand why she just didn’t “act right” and wasn’t as poised as the other older witnesses in the courtroom.  Why did she have such a bad attitude?  Why didn’t the lawyers prepare her better?  It was just astonishing to see law experts fall flat on their faces when it came to youth and brain development and how it connects to judgment.  Many people just could not understand why a “19 year-old adult,” as they called her, could not be a perfect witness.  They were adamant that the jury would never be able to accept her testimony because of her looks, mannerisms, and speaking voice.  It is possible that the analysts were right and the jurors could not connect with her at all (one juror did admit that she could not understand some of her “words” and felt sorry for her).

I watched as lawyers tried to comprehend slang within the context of a serious adult trial.  I saw the defense ensure that jurors were left with the image of Trayvon as a large black young MAN (not a minor) who wore gold teeth and, God-forbid, a hooded sweatshirt! They were determined (as is expected in a true, tough defense case) not to acknowledge any complex images of a teen who ALSO had days when he hugged his parents, babysat a cousin, rode a horse, or played football.

As I start viewing this tragedy via my professional lens, I am concerned that if we do not fully and effectively advocate for, teach, mentor, and protect our young people, especially our boys, then we are setting them up to be profiled as punk teenagers who are up to no-good even when they are not doing anything illegal.

Let me be clear, connecting with teens does not mean that we condone everything they do and/or say.  It means that we take advantage of teachable moments, that we are honest and patient, and that we provide positive direction and support.

Calling our teens punks, sluts, dumb, stupid, and uneducated only causes many of them to retreat and seek solace in the wrong activities and with the wrong people.  If you see a child struggling, LOOK for their potential because we all are subject to bias, ignorance, and stereotyping.  Sometimes, even as health professionals, teachers, counselors, faith leaders, and parents, etc., we are tempted to engage in the “bigotry of low expectations” and decide in our heads the fate of a child before we even really get to know them.  Oh, and young people know when we are ridiculing them, being condescending, or judging them unfairly – Rachel may not have articulated it exactly the way we would, BUT she made it clear that she was well aware of her surroundings!

DID YOU KNOW that Rachel has a speech impediment caused by an extreme under bite and needs surgery?  It is obvious that she has braces but I didn’t realize how serious her condition was until her interview on CNN.  Many of us, even the ones trying to defend her, attributed her communication style to her culture, neighborhood, and education level ONLY – I am sure most of us did not even think about any other factors outside of her control.  Now, we could not have known the details of her experience but we always have the option of not trying to assume everything and to be willing to LEARN about our youth before we start guessing about their plight – even when we mean well.

CASE IN POINT:  Just this morning (July 16), national radio show host Tom Joyner actually called Rachel and offered her tutoring, mentorship, and a scholarship for college.  Tom showed her compassion and asked her about her goals and dreams.  He and her lawyer challenged her to accept the opportunity per her parent’s input and to work hard.  NOW that’s how we at least try to ensure that young people become the poised, educated, and productive citizens we expect.  She didn’t have to be perfect to get his empathy and sincere interest and Trayvon didn’t need to be perfect to get ours.

ALL of our young people deserve a good quality of life and to be free from any adult’s misguided, preconceived notions about them.

by Kimberley Wicker, Outreach Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Give From Your Overflow

This year I opted to work through the summer and go on vacation in the fall. I am looking forward to disconnecting and engaging in activities that require a minimal amount of mental exertion and participation.

A few weeks ago, I shared my travel plans with a friend and he immediately jumped on his soapbox. He thinks our generation is "lazy" and that any type of vacation or time away from home and work is unnecessary and a waste of time. He does not understand why people pay money to go far away and sight-see.

Just as I was about to give him a sassy response, Julia Sugarbaker style, I stopped. I didn't have the energy nor the desire to explain. I simply shared one of my favorite Iyanla Vanzant quotes.

“Give from your overflow,” I said, calmly.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“My interpretation is simple. Give from your overflow because if you give from what sustains you, you will eventually perish and have nothing to give at all. I am exhausted and working off of fumes.”

I learned from my parents that a well-rested mind is the creator of brilliance. To me, that means that in order to be truly brilliant, you need to rest your mind and relax from time to time.

Of course, my friend wasn't open to all that “weird talk,” so he said, “I’ll just follow your Facebook and Instagram and pretend I was there.”

Ironically, I’d just read an article in the Travel of Orange newsletter titled, “The Benefits of Going Offline when Traveling.” I didn't tell him in the moment, but decided he can just hear about my weeks of nothingness upon my return.

Just like work requires our full attention, we owe it to our family and friends to be fully present during our time together. Those emails, selfies and status updates can wait a few days.

By: Meredith Talford, Upstate Training & TA Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Joys of Being a Great Aunt

When you think of a great aunt, you probably think of a woman who is 85 years of age, has been married for 60 years, and loves to knit Christmas scarves.  You would never envision a great aunt being a 28 year old, Atlanta Falcons loving, Tory Burch-toting woman.  Well, SURPRISE!!!  I would like to introduce you to myself, Dr. India D. Rose, Project Manager at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the world’s most fabulous great aunt.  Never in a million years did I envision becoming a great aunt, but the truth be told, that is exactly what I am.  On June 10, 2012 my 22-year-old niece gave birth to her first child, Paris Nicole!  Since her arrival, Paris has truly changed the dynamics of our family.  My siblings and I now have “great” added to our pre-existing title of aunt and uncle.  My mother has converted her name to GG (pronounced Double G), which is a better alternative than being called “Great Grandma.”

My life has changed tremendously since my great niece came into the world.  For starters, seeing my niece’s strength during her delivery and witnessing Paris Nicole enter this world is a memory that I will cherish forever.  Every chance I get to go home to Atlanta, I rush to see and spend time with my great niece.  We recently celebrated her first birthday and I am truly in awe of how quickly children grow.  It seems like it was yesterday when I was rubbing my niece’s belly, then heading to the hospital in the pouring rain at 6 o’clock in the morning because my niece’s water broke, to observing all of the preparation it takes to deliver a baby via water birth, to finally welcoming Paris home.  She is such an amazing little girl, and I am so proud to be her great aunt.  In fact, I am the proud aunt of 8 nieces and nephews, and I am super stoked to have a great niece to add to my collection.  I could go on for days about how this little lady has change my life, but to sum it all up, being a great aunt is GREAT!

By: Dr. India Rose, PhD, Project Manager, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cayci's Top 15 Fascinating Social Media Facts & Figures of 2013

As the Director of Communications for the SC Campaign, I am always interested in great blogs about social media facts and trends.  This list is a must read – 75 Fascinating Social Media Facts & Figures of 2013.  But, just in case you don’t have the time to read the entire article (because let’s be honest, most of you won’t), I have condensed this list into Cayci’s Top 15!  If you had any doubts about the impact social media is having on our culture, our personal lives, and our work, this article will put things into perspective.  And be sure to follow the SC Campaign on Facebook and Twitter!  

1. There are over 1.11 billion users of Facebook with 665 million daily active users

2. 23% of Facebook user’s check their account more than 5 times a day

3. 250 billion photos are uploaded every day to Facebook and 300 million are via Instagram

4. 1 out of every 7 minutes spent online is on Facebook

5. 400 million tweets were sent via Twitter each day as of March 2013

6. Every day, 1 million new accounts are registered on Twitter and more than 11 every second

7. The number of Lady Gaga followers on Twitter is equal to the population of four New York cities

8. 3 million companies have created Company Pages to connect with professionals on LinkedIn (http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/06/27/3-million-linkedin-company-pages-infographic/)

9. Two new users join LinkedIn every second

10. Pinterest is now the 3rd most popular social network after Facebook and Twitter in U.S.

11. Garlic Cheesy Bread is the most repinned Pinterest Pin

12. Google+ is a male-dominated social network with 67% male users

13. Instagram gets over 8,500 “likes” per second

14. More than 5 million photos are uploaded every day on Instagram

15. 6 billion hours are spent watching videos every month on YouTube

By: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Don't Let Your Young People Get Bored This Summer!

Sun. Sand. Surf. These seem to be the images that pop into my mind when I think of summer. I know plenty of eager young people whose parents are able to snuggle them up in the family van with their pillows and individual DVD players to go back and forth to the beach or the lake throughout the summer.  The reality for lots of families, however, is that summers include a lot of sun but not so much sand and surf. Parents need to work to put food on the table and keep the air conditioning on so a beach trip or any other type of vacation just isn’t an option. But with school out, what is left for our young people to do?

Many cities have great parks and recreation departments that offer incredible programs for kids during the summer at low cost (I’m particularly fond of the City of Spartanburg Parks and Recreation Department since our Spartanburg office is located in one of their community centers, and we are witness to all the cool kids in summer programs every day (http://www.cityofspartanburg.org/parks-and-recreation!). Most events and activities like these are for younger kids – up through middle school age if we’re lucky – but very few programs are available to teens. And, for the purposes of teen pregnancy prevention, teens lounging around with nothing to do all summer is NOT a good idea!

So what’s the solution? Obviously, a summer job for those who are old enough is a great way to learn responsibility, accountability, work ethic and to earn some money. If a job isn’t an option, consider an unpaid internship or job-shadowing opportunity.  There are lots of employers who would appreciate some extra help during the summer while having a chance to expose young people to a potential career field. Then look for volunteer opportunities. Soup kitchens, clothing pantries, park clean ups, church or community programs – there are all sorts of ways young people can give back and make a positive difference in their community. And last but not least, being a part of community organizations is a great way to give back, stay engaged in a positive and healthy way and learn valuable leadership skills. I work with a Youth Action Board all year, and we don’t slow down in the summer! In fact, we’re headed to a Youth Summer Forum in early August, and it won’t cost the young people anything.  There are all sorts of opportunities like these for young people if you look hard enough.

Whatever you do, make sure young people have safe activities to be involved with during the summer. A weeklong trip to the beach isn’t necessary, but putting some thought into how young people will spend the blazing sunny days during the summer is!

by Dana Becker, Spartanburg Community Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Five Weeks From Today...

Five weeks from today (if not before) we will meet our sweet baby girl! It’s hard to believe this journey is almost over and that a new life is about to turn our world upside down.  And to be honest, the feelings of nervousness are starting to set in a little.  I mean, it’s been 3.5 years since there was an infant in my house; I’m not confident I remember how to do this.  So, now my nights are spent lying in bed (because it’s the only place I am comfortable) reading baby books.  There is so much to remember – like the different positions to use when trying to breast feed, breast feeding techniques that (should) make it easier, how often she will eat, what color her poop should be, how many times a day she should be peeing, etc.  And by the way, did you know it will be about 11 or so dirty diapers per day at first?!

This past weekend, Charlie and I got all of the necessities out of the attic – the car seat, the stroller, the baby bottles, the diaper bag, etc., and it all started to feel very real.  Sure, I am nervous about having surgery again, but that pain will only be temporary.  I am more nervous about the sleepless nights, having another person that relies solely on me for EVERYTHING – her security, her love, her food, her comfort.  Will I be able to give her everything she needs while also making Lucas feel like he is still my #1?  I think he is going to adapt to this change just fine, but I pray that I have the strength to be a good mom of two.

But, what I know I have is a strong support system – a husband who will be there every step of the way; a supportive mom and dad who would love to have Lucas spend the night with them whenever needed; a mother-in-law who is a nurse and accustomed to working night shift who, if I’m lucky, might come help me a night or two; and tons of other friends and family who will be there when I need them.

What is hard for me to comprehend is for a young girl to go through this at the age of 16 without a strong support system.  I remember when I was 16 and the most important things in my life were my basketball teammates, my cheerleading squad, Charlie (yes, he’s been in my life since high school), making good grades under some tough teachers like Mr. and Mrs. Minton and getting my Honda Civic!  It really is hard to imagine throwing all of the pressures, emotions and struggles of having a baby into that mix.  Having one child at home and one on the way, just makes me more passionate about the work I do at the SC Campaign every day!  If I can help, in some small way, to prevent a young girl from having to grow up too fast, I want to do my part.

by: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy