Speak About It Change Makers
Here at Speak About It, we acknowledge that our own work is built on the brave work of many activists, educators, and thinkers before us. Likewise, we work today in community with incredible violence prevention and consent advocates across the country.
The narratives of people of color, queer folks, trans folks, and other marginalized identities are often silenced, erased, or overshadowed in the broader social dialogue about sexual assault. For example, even in the age of #MeToo, many people of color are still working to have their stories heard with the same weight and same seriousness as their white peers.
We serve all students across all identities and want to ensure that all students feel their voices are represented and heard. The work of diverse activists and thinkers makes our work to build a culture of consent more inclusive and more effective. That work deserves to be celebrated.
So we want to share with you, our friends and followers, some of the Change Makers who have inspired us and keep inspiring us every day. We’ll update this post with new Change Makers twice a month.
Do you have someone you want to share with us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change Maker #3: DR. DONNA ORIOWO
We met Donna Oriowo this past October at the National Sex Ed Conference, where she delivered the keynote address. Her remarks addressed the intersections of race and privilege in sex education. She urged audiences to engage with their discomfort around identity, and think critically about the privilege they bring into the classroom. She also encouraged educators to think about sex ed not as a monolith that applies to all people, but with nuance; to consider how even things like skin color, shade, and hair quality affect how someone is treated in the world, and therefore how they develop their sexual identity and what kind of education and affirmation they may need.
A graduate of Morgan State University and Widener University, Dr. Donna saw very few black sex therapists working in the field when she was first studying public health. As she finished her PhD in Human Sexuality, she wanted to fill a gap, and specifically address the needs and desires of black women and couples in her practice. She works as a private practice counselor, and loves working to empower black women to connect with their emotions, build their self esteem, and celebrate their sexuality.
“Let's work together to discover more about you, your sex(uality). And how it connects to your race, ethnicity, spirituality/religion," Dr. Donna writes on her website, inviting therapy clients to learn "how to navigate [your sexuality] when you are feeling depressed, anxious, or like your self esteem is just not where you need it to be." Dr. Donna is widely quoted across the internet on various subjects surrounding relationships, sexual health, and pleasure. She also speaks across the country and consults with sex educators, especially around issues of intersectionality.
Dr. Donna pushes educators to engage with the racist history of birth control and sex education in this country, and in doing so re-visit how we engage with young people of color in the conversation about sexuality. Black and brown students deserve to have access to pleasure-based, informative sex ed. In addition to individual clients, Dr. Donna works with sex ed professionals to develop intersectional curriculum and practices. This includes media literacy and empathy training. She also advocates that educators and researchers diversify the images and educational materials they use when teaching about sexuality. Showing anatomically diverse bodies in diagrams with different colors, shapes, and hair types helps more students connect to curriculum and understand their own bodies.
Want to learn more about Dr. Donna Oriwio? Check out her website, An Nod Right or follow her on Instagram!
Change Maker #2: ROSA PARKS
Take what you learned in second grade about a meek and gentle seamstress who was too tired to give up her bus seat and toss it out the window. The story of the Montgomery bus boycott, and Parks’ own biography, is much more complex. By that afternoon in 1955, Parks had been a veteran organizer and activist for years. A woman who drew inspiration from Marcus Garvey and Malcom X, she was on her way home from work to prepare for upcoming Alabama NAACP elections, of which she was the secretary. Her early organizing years were centered, in particular, around combating lynching and racist sexual violence against black communities.
As a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP, Rosa Parks took a central role in seeking justice for Recy Taylor (who’s story of assault you may remember from Oprah Winfrey’s moving remarks at this year’s Golden Globes). This piece, written in memoriam when Taylor passed away in 2017, tells her story and her struggle for justice, and details some of Parks' work on the case. Ms. Taylor was interviewed by NPR in 2011 here, where historian Danielle McGuire also talks about how Taylor’s story, and those hundreds of other black survivors of sexual violence, exemplify how intrinsically intertwined racism, white supremacy, and sexual violence truly are.
Parks was the lead investigator and change maker in numerous rape and lynching cases throughout her years as an organizer. Following Taylor’s assault, Parks worked tirelessly to seek answers and justice from the sheriff in Taylor’s hometown. Taylor’s own home was fire-bombed, and Parks was accused by the sheriff of being a “troublemaker” and essentially run out of town. Following this, Parks organized a national campaign, the Committee for Equal Justice for the Rights of Mrs. Recy Taylor. The campaign garnered national attention, especially from black activists and writers like Langston Hughes and W.E.B DuBois.
Parks replicated similar campaigns for other victims too. Taylor never received justice from the court systems for the atrocities she suffered, but Parks' work to bring her story and others into the public eye was a bold, brave, and revolutionary act that left lasting marks on the civil rights movement. Later, Parks would build a defense committee for Joan Little, an inmate who killed the guard that sexually assaulted her in self-defense. Little was the first woman to use self-defense in a homicide case with success, much in part due to Parks' advocacy.
Parks work also provided an organizing platform for other civil rights struggles and demonstrations, both of the era and today. Likewise, many regard Rosa Parks as a grandmother of the #MeToo movement. Says #MeToo founder, Tarana Burke, "We can’t do this work without continuously referencing the work of Rosa Parks fighting against the sexual and racial violence that black women were subjected to.”
Change Maker #1: ROXANE GAY
Roxane Gay is one of the most prolific writers of fiction, essays, and cultural criticism today. Her biting wit and on-point Twitter game offer an incisive, inclusive and sometimes irreverent look into pop-culture, storytelling, and social justice. Her writing and commentary cover a range topics, from race and representation, to comic books and Beyonce. Her book of essays Bad Feminist is an affirming and intersectional series of pop culture critiques and personal essays, and offers an accessible entryway into modern feminism and social justice. Her writing on sexual violence, from personal narratives to astute essays are some of the most compassionate, complex and energizing writings on the subject. We also think it’s pretty much the coolest ever that she co-authored Marvel’s World of Wakanda series with Ta-Nehisi-Coates.
Plus in between writing and posting this blog post, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. And launched a pop-up magazine on Medium, Unruly Bodies. She’s unstoppable!
We got to see Roxane speak live at Bowdoing College last month, and were moved, charmed, and floored by her relatable wit and incredible insight. If you haven’t read any of Gay’s writing, or haven’t seen her drag her twitter haters...it’s a hundred and fifteen percent worth it. Plus, we’re looking forward to the vitally important essay collection she curated and edited, Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, coming out this May.
Jumpstart your Roxane Gay reading list with these articles:
- "If I was Conventionally Hot, I would be President" In conversation with humorist, Lindy West, The Guardian.
- Safer Spaces and campus culture in the NYTimes.
- On Problematic Pop Culture and the Roseanne reboot.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau