In this post, I’m sharing why I created the Sister-2-Sister series discussed in part 1, and what was explored each week.
At the time I wrote the paper on Sister 2 Sister in 2012, I shared: “I know that the one size fits all models have not worked for many of my sisters in the community. Too often I have been in crisis situations with young women who have sat in HIV prevention workshops, and are assumed to know the information and be able to retain it. However, much like our education system, the way in which the information is being presented does not speak to these women and does not allow them to critically question how racism impacts their decision-making and how constructions of identity are political but left out of learning spaces on purpose. In acknowledging that no education system is neutral, that all knowledge is socially constructed and thus contested, I went in with the understanding that Sister 2 Sister would not be without its imperfections, however, I was determined to make it as anti-racist as possible."
Sister 2 Sister: Keeping it Real Series is a discussion series that allowed young ACB women between the ages of 16- 29 the opportunity to engage in conversations about sexual health by tapping into indigenous ways of knowing through arts-based interventions. These bi-weekly discussion sessions were held from June 11 to August 20, 2011, on Saturdays between 1 to 4 pm where close to 142 women attended.
Week 1: HIV/AIDS Real Talk: Let’s Talk About Sex
Week 2: What’s the 411 on STIs
Week 3: HIV & the Law: To Tell or Not to Tell
Week 4: Money, Sex, and Choices: Part 1
Week 5: Money, Sex, and Choices: Part 2
Week 6: Let’s Talk About Testing
The series was organized with anti-racist principles from the very beginning. The sessions allowed the participants to get HIV/AIDS education through poetry, theatre, music, painting and visual aids, short clips, storytelling, and more. We discussed HIV education; STI education; interrogated the construction of the criminalized HIV body, particularly Black women; social determinants of health including race, gender; class and constructions of the Black female body; power imbalances, and economic dependency; and testing and resources.
Week 1: HIV/AIDS Real Talk: Let’s Talk About Sex: this first session was awareness around 1) what HIV is; 2) how HIV is transmitted, and 3) how to prevent HIV. Participants were to brainstorm answers to these 3 questions through painting, they were asked to limit the amount of writing, and instead, answer the questions via images, drawing, or painting. Some drew needles, condoms, the red ribbon, cells, etc.
As they painted, 2 community members were brought in to play the keyboard and serenade them. We then had another community member come in as an "elder" to share her story with us as an HIV+ woman, to debunk the myths. This can be tricky as it borders tokenism, objectification, and at times, “trauma porn.” But our guest was relatable, and engaging, and stayed to watch an informative drama called MTV Shuga Episode 2 with us. We critically analyzed the show and opened the floor to discussion, and reflection. We talked about themes that showed up, the complications of negotiating condom use, the importance of prevention, and how the characters and Kenyans were represented. All participants were given contact information to therapists at our center, should they need it. There were counselors also available on hand during the sessions. I had ordered a popcorn machine and popped fresh kernels for the participants, in addition to catered food.
Week 2: What’s the 411 on STIs: We had a community member and educator come in and teach participants about the reproductive anatomy, the different STIs, and what and how they affected the body. The sessions were hands-on and interactive. Participants were able to draw and used different ingredients like bananas, Twizzlers, lemons, and different types of candy to construct a replica of the different types of anatomy. That allowed them to creatively play, engage in textile motor skills, and learn about the body, and STIs without the shame, anxiety, and stigma that the conversation would otherwise produce.
It was followed by a heavier topic: a focus group on sexual violence which was really powerful, deep, and surprisingly vulnerable. We had a consultant from the community come in and facilitate that. Again, therapists and counselors were on hand, and access to them was provided following the session, in case anything came up that the participants needed help processing.
Week 3: HIV & the Law: To Tell or Not to Tell: This was another difficult conversation given that at the time, HIV non-disclosure was criminalized under manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. We had a poetry-based activity facilitated by a poet and motivational speaker in the community. Participants have to write poetry (haiku or sonnet), putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. Using theatre and performance, we acted out different condom negotiation scenarios. We then watched a clip called “Limiting the law: Silence, sex and science,” by the HIV Legal Network.
Week 4: Money, Sex, and Choices: Part 1: This session discussed the social determinants of HIV. We had an interactive activity with images and gave one of the peer educators an opportunity to present on the educational, judicial, and religious systems and the media. Following their presentation, we had grassroots activists and workshop presenters from The Africana present a workshop on “Analyzing Black Female Sexuality.” We ended with a discussion on how social media can be used for good. When asked what 1 thing was, they would take away, some responded, “the hope for change,” “people’s stories,” “Need to stop being a superwoman,” and “Healing took place.”
Week 5: Money, Sex, and Choices: Part 2: In part 2 of the workshop, we invited a community member to come to exhibit a photo voice project they had been working on with young women in her community. Themes included complexities of transactional sex and relationships, sugar daddies and boopsies, dynamics between African vs. Caribbean men: who pays more/who wants more, and social determinants of health that underscore these decisions. We had a photographer on hand to take photos of the participants as they interacted with the art, and later, watched another MTV Ignite episode, this time, based on Trinidad called, Tribes.
Week 6: Let’s Talk About Testing: The final workshop was a celebration and evaluation of all they had learned leading up. We watched a short clip called, “Me, myself, and HIV.” I created a Sexual Health Jeopardy game, which was an interactive way to assess participants on information and see if they were able to retain the information. We also had canvas’ and paint available for them to produce art they felt represented the workshop series, as well as a resource table. Pizza, sex toy prizes, condoms, and dental dams were all involved. They got an educational session on how to use preventative technology and enjoyed desserts from a local Black woman-owned business. When asked, would you attend another series, a participant responded, “for sure,” another, “there was nothing I didn’t like, it was really good.”
In the next and final post, I’ll share why I made some of the decisions I did, the lessons learned and the feedback we got from participants. Stay tuned. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share.
Until next time, in solidarity.