By Maddie Majerus, NARAL Pro-Choice NC’s Organizing Intern
Attending the Reproductive Justice Summit was a highly rewarding experience! While I learned about many different aspects of reproductive justice, the most interesting topic I learned about was the state of sexual education in North Carolina. I was in high school before the Healthy Youth Act was passed, and my sex ed class definitely reflected that. My high school provided the “Mean Girls” version of sex ed. My gym teacher told our class, “When I was your age, the worst thing that could happen if we had sex was that we could get pregnant. The worst thing that could happen to you now is that you could die.” It was a week of scare tactics, terrifying pictures of diseased ovaries, and no real information about sex, other than it should be avoided at all costs. My little sister is entering high school this next year, and while sex ed still isn’t perfect in North Carolina, I am grateful that she will be receiving more legitimate sex ed class. Thanks to the Healthy Youth Act, she and her peers will be learning about all FDA approved forms of contraception, sexual assault and risk reduction, and STD prevention. Though they still push abstinence, all materials used in class must be medically accurate. I am confident that she and her peers will be in a much better position to make decisions about their sexual health than myself and my peers were after our sex ed horror show.
One thing that the Reproductive Justice Summit reminded me is that just because someone is involved with or interested in certain issues doesn’t mean that they are familiar with every related term or concept, and that that is perfectly okay! A lot of my schoolwork, activism, and personal life are spent talking and thinking critically about things like rape culture and institutionalized racism. I surround myself with other people who are so well versed on such topics, that sometimes I forget that they are not “common knowledge”. At twenty-two years old, I was on the older end of Summit participants, as the Summit was open to sixteen to twenty-four year olds, so part of the knowledge gap can be attributed simply to age and the fact that I have had more time to learn and attend events like this, but it still surprised me to talk to participants who told me that this was the first time they had ever heard the term “intersectionality” and learned what it was!
What a privilege it was to see this group of enthusiastic young activists learning more about the things they care about. Oftentimes, in advocacy work, explaining and teaching the same “basic concepts” to people can be tiring, or frustrating, because you yourself are so familiar with them— everyone should already know about these things, right? Everyone starts out with a blank slate when they begin learning about something new; even the most diehard activists started out knowing nothing about their cause! I forgot how exciting it was to be in their shoes, and to learn about a brand new concept that blows their mind! Learning is something you never stop doing your entire life, and we are so lucky to be able to share our knowledge with each other at events such as these!
So what’s next? Moving forward from the RJ Summit, we need to create a leadership program for young advocates to keep them involved with the organizations that fight for reproductive justice, keep them in contact with each other so that they can work on projects together, and give them access to mentors to guide them into turning their passion into a career. Another option is gathering a team of young people together once a month to continue their education about reproductive justice, and to create sustainable programs to promote reproductive justice together, collaboratively. This is a vital tool to keep young people engaged, excited, and feeling as though they are making a difference—because they already have! We need to invest in these folks now, in order to develop these young leaders into change makers for our state in the long run.