What are your names and where are you from?
Kimberly: I am Kimberly and I am from Brooklyn, New York. But I think I’m from lots of parts of Brooklyn. But most recently East Flatbush.
Brittany: I am Brittany and I am also from Brooklyn New York. I am born, raised, cultivated, all the things grown in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn.
What are you working on while you are here at SPACE?
Kimberly: So Brittany and I have been working together since college, so about wow four or five years? Maybe?
Brittany: I feel like more than that, seven maybe.
Kimberly: So we’ve been doing lots of sexual health education workshops everywhere. And we’ve been tasked recently to put our passion into a business format. You know, we have been passion and purpose filled this entire time. But now I guess it’s time to get to the nitty gritty business of things. So we’re developing our business plan right now. And also trying to put our heads together to create some kind of sexual health curriculum. That fills the gap in sex-ed in a creative and fun way.
And what is this gap that you see in sex education?
Brittany: Yeah so I think it would be great if I could say that there was one gap. But there are many gaps. So I will explain some of them. One is that whether or not sex-ed is offered period is a thing. Some places have really good sex-ed, some places have no sex-ed, some places have one week, and some places have abstinence only till marriage sex ed. There are multiple layers in types of sexual education, so that’s one gap. There’s no consistency across states, across cities, across school districts even. There’s no consistent type of sexual education. Another gap is when sex education is offered; it often leaves a lot of people out. That being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans folk, queer folks, and even people of color. Sex education doesn’t meet the cultural needs, or is not often culturally relevant for people of color or other marginalized groups to understand. Or take in the information in a way that serves them. And then I guess another gap, there are so many gaps! Another one would be, I think that sometimes it misses the mark in the way that it’s taught. I mean you have health teachers, gym teachers, and sometimes the math teacher teaching the class. It’s not comprehensive in the sense that you may get it one year in 6th grade and that’s it. When we know that people are sexual beings from birth, right? All the way through their life, from birth to death. The current sex education models, there are some that are working, but the majority of the ones that we’ve come in contact with are not serving young people, adults, really anyone.
How did you guys decide this was the work you wanted to do?
Kimberly: Wow. So for me, I always wanted to be an OB GYN. So I took org-o (Organic Chemistry) and I was like yep. Um-hmm. Yeah right. So then I was a psych major and all these different things and I remember, personally, I had one of my uncles pass from AIDS related complications. It opened up my mind to HIV-AIDS and stigma, and I was really fascinated. I became a McNair Scholar at Syracuse (University) and you have to do research as part of the program. My research focused on sexuality, attitudes, and beliefs of African American women on Syracuse University’s campus. So that was the beginning of my research interest into this. And then we both were part of a student run organization on campus called Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S. So both of us, we were Vice President and President, ran it. That was the beginning of our paired facilitation. And I was also my floors condom queen in Sadler Hall. I think I stumbled upon it randomly in some ways, but then I just realized this is something I’m really passionate about. Because I had a personal connection to someone who didn’t have the opportunity to speak about things or learn about things like this. So that kind of propelled me into this field.
Brittany: I think in similar ways I was really inspired by life events. So for me the one that stands out the most is in high school. I went to Catholic high school. And before that, I say I went to a Christian arts academy because we mainly learned about Jesus and music. It’s not what they call themselves. I should’ve branded them, they’d probably be open still. But I had all of this education, and even though I was in private school I’d never had any type of formal sex education. So when I was seventeen, on the corner of my block, there was this mobile HIV testing unit. And the incentive was that they were giving out metrocards. And I was like oh I’ve got so many plans on the weekend I want a metro card. So I went into this mobile testing unit and the tester was asking me all these questions about whether or not I was at risk for HIV. I had been sexually active since I was fourteen, and I had no idea what my risk was. I had no idea what that meant. I was like oh no, I don’t have that. But no one had ever taught me how HIV is transmitted, or anything. And I tested negative that day but when I walked out of that testing unit I was just so angry. I felt like some system had taken away my ability to make informed decisions about my life. When I went to college, AIDS was the leading cause of death for black women in the U.S. I had this experience that I’d had, about not being able to make informed decisions. And then this actual real health disparity affecting black women was occurring. I entered college as a pre-med person and a women and gender studies major. I actually fulfilled all my pre-med requirements at Syracuse but decided that I was really interested not just in medicine. Because I wasn’t just interested in healing or helping individuals, but really trying to bring change around health disparities for entire populations. I studied women and gender studies, which added another layer of understanding the way race, gender, class, age, ability, intersect and change a person’s life. And is interchangeably and directly linked to how we navigate the world. I was really motivated to understand the way that systemic forms of oppression impact the way we make decisions about our health. And how those decisions get taken away from us. So with all of that put together I was motivated to do something about it. And as Kim explained we eventually became part of the leadership of Sex Symbols. Which was really looking at the black and Latino students on our campus. And for many students who go to PWI (predominately white institutions) students of color have smaller sexual networks. So risk is even higher, because you are ultimately perhaps sleeping with the same people. And so we were tasked with a huge job. There are 14,000 undergraduates, and we dealt with a segment of that. Trying to figure out how to get information, that many people didn’t get when they got to high school. So we had this huge task of figuring that out. And I think the task of it and our own personal motivations definitely, just propelled me toward the decision that this is what my life is going to be about. And that’s how it went. How it goes.
I know that a lot sex education is not comprehensive and it’s missing a lot of information, but one thing that is never talked about is pleasure centered sex education and I was wondering if that’s something you guys do.
Kimberly: It’s so funny that you ask that, that’s something that both of us really want to include in some way shape or form in this curriculum that we’re developing. Because when you think about sex-ed it’s like okay, you can get all these STDs, you can have a pregnancy you didn’t want at that time in your life, all these bad things are going to happen to you, right? Sex happens and then these consequences just pop out of nowhere. But we never talk about how people may want to have sex because it feels good, right? It can make a connection with someone you care about. We don’t talk about the human side of sex. We talk about the biology. Nothing about what most people may engage in sex for. When we think about young people, we are not talking about sex as a pleasurable thing. So for me, I speak for myself personally, I didn’t start having sex for myself until I was about twenty-three. But I was sexually active since I was fourteen. I didn’t think about how, if I’m doing this thing with this person, my priority is that I’m enjoying this, it feels good, I feel safe, I feel all these things. I was taught by all these different things, media, that sex is for that person not for me. So in thinking about my younger self I think, how empowered would I have been to know that sex is an experience that you share with someone. And you both should be feeling happy and positive and safe about what’s happening. I didn’t have that. There was no conversation about how to talk to a partner, about what are we going to be doing during this experience. I never had that language. I think we really want young people to know the full scope of sexuality and sexual experience.Knowing that sex doesn’t always lead you to a consequence that lands you in your pediatrician’s office.
So what’s next for you and this project?
Kimberly: We are waiting to hear back from something that we applied to. I’m going to speak positive vibes into the air. So we’re hoping to figure out ways to engage the people that we work with. We work with youth service providers, people that work with folks 13-18 and people that work with the millennial's so 18-24 plus. So we are figuring out ways to actively engage those groups that may not be a workshop forum. We’re just figuring out ways to continue getting our message out there that resonates with people we work with. We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming of our business plan, about who’s our target audience. How do we engage them, how do we connect with them, how do we do we make what we produce exciting and relevant. Because we understand, we are great at developing workshops and content, but we may not capture everyone because you have to be in a certain space at a certain time.
Brittany: We’re also thinking a lot about really understanding the problem. We understand it deeply, and the problem is transforming. There are new things being published about the problem, from not having sex-ed to things like the clean panty challenge. Where people are taking pictures of their underwear with no discharge. Or things that are just occurring on social media. So really thinking of how do we really understand our user. How do we take the information that we have in our arsenal and share it with this person who is currently in this moment in time? We understand all these things. Now lets understand the person that needs to use it. Our youth population is young people who are “underserved.” I don’t use the term at risk because at risk for what? Kids who are disenfranchised and are living in very vulnerable situations. But then our 18-24 population, our young professionals, are interested in the glow up. Are motivated to be better, not that they’re not great already but to do all these things and be grand. I say we are the generation of MTV Cribs and My Super Sweet 16. So we have huge things to aspire to that may or may not happen. So we are trying to figure out how to understand that group. This educated group that knows all these things, but is also not where they should be when it comes to safeguarding their sexual health or having pleasurable experiences. We have one group that we want them to have self-determined lives but they don’t have the access to assets. Then we have another group that’s like I’m over here, I’m grinding, doing it, listening to Drake and DJ Khaled. And they have all this motivation but they still don’t have that information. So we’re trying to have a deep understanding of who our user is so we can create transformative change in them.
If you were reincarnated as an animal on this farm, who would you be and why?
Kimberly: What’s the brown horse?
I think that’s Star Star or something.
Kimberly: I would be Star Star. She’s the mama horse. When I first came to this farm and saw Star Star the first comment I made was who did her ombre? Her hair was perfect. No she was just a beautiful animal. And I’m from New York City, I’m a real city girl. So this was just a once in a lifetime, at least I hope not once in a lifetime, to be in nature. So just seeing animals not in a zoo, just roaming doing their thing is cool. Star Star is beautiful.
Brittany: Yeah, I’d be one of those ducks. I’d be a duck not just because of who ducks are but because of those ducks. When we got here Maggie told us a story about how the ducks were brought to clear up the algae in the lake and they were like I’m not doing that I’m going to be up here with the chickens. I would be that duck! That is actually me! Like you thought wrong! Who told you I wanted to do anything with algae? I’m making family with the chickens. Let's build community chickens. That’s what I would be. They are revolutionary ducks and I am for them.