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Sister 2 Sister: Keeping it Real 10-Year Anniversary

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

YouTube video and Soundcloud audio available.

I initially thought that this summer marked the 10-year anniversary of a workshop series I collaborated on in 2012 while working as a community health educator. As it turns out, I actually ran them in 2011, so it’s been 11 years! Time flies. The series was called, Sister 2 Sister Keeping it Real: An Exploration of Sexual Health Conversations through the Eyes of African, Caribbean, and Black Young Women. I don’t often celebrate myself, or get celebrated or acknowledged much, so I wanted to take this anniversary as an opportunity to do a series on Sister 2 Sister and HIV prevention education.

The series was a response to the Toronto Teen Survey, a study spearheaded by Dr. Sarah Flicker, just years prior. Some of the data showed that although Black youth in Toronto made up less than 10% of the population, they accounted for 33% of all new HIV infection rates. I was working at a community health centre at the time as a sex health educator and felt I needed to contribute to programming that targeted youth. Our centre served only women and girls, including trans women, so I focused specifically on young women.

I was also doing my master’s in sociology and equity studies in education at the time and wanted to better understand the role of pedagogy in helping students to retain information. I was interested in the role of art, emotions, and offering multicentric ways of learning. I used the series as part of a class project in my “Principles of Anti-Racism Education” class.

Before I start, as I did in my paper for the course, I need to start with social location and privileges. I’ll share an excerpt from the paper I wrote at the time: “As an HIV negative twenty-seven-year-old Canadian citizen of Ghanaian descent (I’m 37 now), who earns an income in Toronto by providing HIV education and prevention work, (often times to women whose life experiences have afforded them with more education and knowledge on HIV than I), I am cognizant that my young able body carries and tells stories of privilege.

The way in which I discovered this very passion for HIV prevention work was done so at the expense of Kenyan women [during my first volunteer trip in 2006]. The notion of having the privilege to travel to another country to ‘help’, to ‘learn’ when, in actuality, in retrospect, I can say, I was consuming stories of HIV-positive women and their children. [This] carries with it very loaded problematic narratives. However, unlearning and relearning, this experience became the turning point in my life and has led me to interrogate my body more closely when engaging in prevention work. My goal is to work through the guilt and critically, constructively stand in solidarity with those that are HIV positive, and always remember that my experience as a person affected with HIV (not infected but affected), can and should be used to move towards real transformative change.”

I went on to write, “Having come to understand the social nature of HIV and the correlations between increasing rates within the Black community, I am trying to use my love for anti-racism/ anti-oppression as a tool to combat some of the oppressive ways in which HIV Prevention work is currently [being] done in Toronto. [With the exception of Black CAP and APAA] currently, we still find those in the HIV field reproducing constructions of African, Caribbean, and Black (ACB) women as the other, placing them on the margins, outsiders, within. These stories that are told of ABC women depict them as irresponsible, apathetic jezebels who often bring on HIV [themselves] but don’t show up to workshops, events and aren’t interested in learning about prevention.”

So, at the time, I was questioning how we as service providers, myself more specifically, how we were serving young women. My research objectives at the time were to identify if we were engaging young women meaningfully in ways that acknowledged systems of domination and the social determinants of health that they were up against. I wanted to know if using an anti-racist, arts-based framework would allow young women to critically engage and take ownership of their sexual health while engaging in indigenous spiritual ways of knowing. Because I’ve always been interested in the role of emotions, empathy, compassion, etc., I wanted to know if pouring in love, and paying attention to the emotional needs of participants helped or mattered. Would they feel the love I put in? Would feeling cared for help them to engage in education more meaningfully? I know I retain information best when I feel like the presenter has my best interest at heart and cares, are others the same? This is what I wanted to know.

So, those are some of the questions, sites of privilege, research, and work that brought me to create Sister 2 Sister.

You wouldn’t know it now, but I was very much deep in community and local organizing and felt it important to partner and collaborate with others. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually not that narcissistic at all and don’t care to be in the limelight, so I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t the one actually doing any of the presenting. I wanted to amplify other voices and bring in local artists and organizers. The next few blogs will share lessons learned from the 6-week series. This will help me to make sense of my research portfolio as well, as Sister 2 Sister is one of the research experiences I’ll share with employers one day, should I ever get a callback or interview to discuss my research endeavors. The program ran from June 11 to August 20th. I thought this July would be a great time to have this conversation and celebrate some of my past achievements and contributions, even if no one else will.

To close, I’ll share another excerpt from the paper I wrote at the time. “The following paper will share my journey to shift theory into practice, through critically exploring ways in which arts-based, intersectional approaches could be used for HIV prevention education with young ACB women to examine multiple dimensions of stigma and the resulting influence on self-identity and engagement related to HIV. I will argue that through anti-racist pedagogy of asking the right questions and challenging traditional productions of knowledge; incorporating multicentric ways of learning; and infusing spirituality, we can begin to create spaces where young ACB women are empowered to take their health into their own hands and understand how systems of domination play a role in their demise.”

As you can see, I’ve always written and talked the same way. Not much has changed. I’m not new to this. But feel free to say what you want, how you want, where you want. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share. This website runs off your donations, so I’d love it if you could PayPal me at DeeArchives.

Until next time, in solidarity.

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