By Ervin Lopez, Young Men's Organizer* and TeenSource Guest Blogger
I come from a small town called Alameda where everyone knows each other. You can feel the safety in this community when you can walk the streets either early in the morning or late at night and still be greeted with a smile and a welcoming, “Hey, how’s it going?” At the high school that I went to, we had a sex education class called "Current Life" where we were taught the value of healthy communication and the effects of not communicating at all. So, naturally, everyone felt safe enough to know each other.
Across the bridge was a city that my mother told me never to go, especially at night. I was only allowed to visit Chinatown where we would buy food and get out as quickly as we could. As I grew up, I always wondered why she was so scared of staying longer than an hour or why we never ventured past Eleventh Street. During my senior year, and completely ignoring my mother’s words, I took a leap of faith and went to the city where I attended an event that highlighted the dances of my culture. I fell in love.
Oakland’s culture, people, food; what’s not to love? The city that I was told to stay away from is now where I spend more of my time than I do at home. I joined programs like Asian Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership (AYPAL) where I learned about different cultures and their struggles, American Center for Philippine Arts (ACPA) where I learned how to play the instruments of my motherland and Forward Together (FT) where I learned more than I would have in my "Current Life" class.
Before FT, I thought it was a requirement to take a sex ed class before anyone can graduate. Then through our research from presentations in classrooms and with schoolboard members, we found out that 62% of Oakland students, including seniors, have not received sex ed and that the majority that did had a class that only scared them with worst-case-scenario pictures of STI’s. So, why did my small town get something totally awesome and the city a bus ride away didn’t? It wasn't fair and we wanted to change that.
With the information we gathered, the Forward Together Youth Program advocates for a curriculum that doesn’t only talk about the risks of getting STI’s or the failure rates of condoms. Our vision includes a class that is comprehensive, inclusive of all identities and gives students the knowledge and resources they need to make healthy decisions FOR THEMSELVES. I would much rather see people using healthy communication to resolve issues than their fists and we knew that comprehensive sex ed would help us achieve this vision. And now, with the help of Forward Together Youth, a better, more-inclusive curriculum of sex ed will be implemented for all Oakland Unified School District Ninth Graders.
And my other vision for the future? I would love to see people everywhere, in Oakland and beyond, greeting each other the way I do with, "Hey! How's it going?"
*Ervin Lopez is the Young Men's organizer at Forward Together where he supports the youth program by day and sleeps by night.