A Message from the Director......
As I reflect on this past Women’s History Month and Beychella, I am reminded why I started the Encouraging Life Organization (ELO) and why I am passionate about the work we do. I started the ELO in 2010, during the completion of my undergraduate degree. I had to complete an internship at a health organization and I got the opportunity to volunteer as a health educator with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. As a health educator, I was charged with the responsibility of providing comprehensive sex education to middle school and high school students throughout Sacramento County. This amazing, yet challenging and transformative experience, caused me to reach outside of my comfort zone and discuss sexual and reproductive health with curious and impressionable students. The experience served as a constant reminder of lack of information I had about sex as an adolescent and young adult. My sex education was taught by our high school football coach and by conversations throughout my community, which were a variety of “don’t get pregnant”; “it’s a sin to have sex”; and my personal favorite… “Only fast girls have sex”.. “no man wants a loose woman.” As you can imagine, these ideologies brought a ton of confusion during my formative years and kept me naive to my own understanding of sex… But there I was... volunteering at Planned Parenthood, in my early 20s, and teaching young people about things that I myself lacked comfort in. Planned Parenthood was the start of my awakening or wokeness that literally transformed me into the person I am today. The experience forced me to be less judgmental of people and their choices in life. I no longer held this righteous judgment of people and I became comfortable with understanding my own personal reflection of sexuality, and sexual & reproductive health. It changed my life….but my evolution and growth is not why that’s not why I started ELO… I started ELO for “her”….For confidentiality purposes, I will not use her name, but let’s just call her Monique. Monique was a 14-year-old, Black/African American young woman, who was pregnant with her second child. I was teaching sex education in her class for the week and I was facilitating a group activity where we discussed the reproduction system, pregnancy options, and birth control while addressing myths about how a woman could get pregnant. At the end of the discussion, Monique approached me and thanked me for my presentation. She told me that she was on her second child and she wished she would have a detailed conversation about the reproductive system. She advised me that she may have made different choices, had she had someone talk to her about her body, sex, and how the reproductive system functions.
As I listened deeply to her, I realized there were so many misperceptions about sexual and reproductive health that have plagued us for generations. I was uncomfortable to know that this young woman was not provided with the proper resources and education to optimize her sexual and reproductive health. I pondered on how many young Black/African American women weren’t equipped with accurate information about their bodies and resources that can prevent sexual & reproductive health disparities. My experience at Planned Parenthood also opened my eyes to the sexual and reproductive health disparities that face Black/African Americans. From high rates in Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV, high infant and maternal mortality rates, and teen pregnancy (even though it has gone down over the years), Black/ African Americans women have the worse health outcomes and little interventions that focuses on changing that narrative. We are also not invited at the “table” to influence policies and improve programs that impact our bodies and our health. For this reason, I started the ELO. I wanted to take a stance in the fight to eliminate sexual and reproductive health disparities among vulnerable and marginalized communities….MY COMMUNITY. I wanted ensure that young people were equipped with all the information they need to make intentional decisions on their sexual and reproductive health. Most importantly, I wanted a seat at the table and the ability to change policies and development programs that impact US.
The mission of the ELO is to educate, empower, and mobilize underserved and vulnerable communities in prioritizing their reproductive and sexual health. We want to change the narrative by closing the gap of sexual and reproductive health disparities and provide services to the community that are FREE. My experience at Planned Parenthood was life-changing and ignite a fire within me to make an impact and bring about change…My hopes are that the ELO provides that creates that same fire to impact change within the communities we serve.
Jessica Brown, MPH