If you are reading this at your kitchen table eating breakfast, on your commute to work, or even in bed before you doze off to sleep, welcome.
First let me introduce myself. My name is Spencer Kelly, and I am a junior undergrad at Howard University majoring in international business. For the past three years, I have been involved with The Grassroot Project, (also known as TGP for short), a non-profit organization based in D.C. that recruits Division I athletes from Howard, George Washington, Georgetown, and American universities to educate middle school students at public and public charter schools in the D.C. area about HIV/AIDS, safe sex, and sexual awareness.
Before I became a resident of D.C., I had the fortune to live in a small, safe town in southern New Jersey. Having the luxury of living in a nice suburban neighborhood with the city of Philadelphia only a short drive away was great. My perspective on everyday life was based on my own ordinary, comfortable upbringing, but that changed when I came to D.C. To put it into context, here is a short piece I wrote entitled, To Wander and Wonder.
He was known as a wanderer.
A wanderer that loved the wisdom and the wise.
He was me, a black boy wanting to
Climb the air
Count the bricks
Get lost in other people’s words.
He wanted to wander and wonder.
You are they, and she is him.
I am my, and he is the self.
My knowledge of sexual health, particularly HIV/AIDS, wasn’t extensive when I came to D.C. When I was first introduced to The Grassroot Project my freshman year at Howard, I was excited to learn more. What, specifically, about HIV/AIDS is so important to the D.C. community? Little did I know that D.C. has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country. What I also didn’t know is that the majority of people affected are millennials. I identify as an African-American, a Christian, a bisexual, and a leader, among other things. Most importantly I see myself as an educator.
Because my major was international business, I didn’t see myself getting involved with public health issues, specifically the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I was drawn to The Grassroot Project because I thought its platform and mission presented a great opportunity to lead and educate the next generation of young individuals about the effects of their sexual health lifestyles. The Grassroot Project has taught me the importance of educating others and myself about sexual health. Sometimes it was uncomfortable to talk about sex, but I wanted to lean into the discomfort: “He [me] wanted to wander and wonder”.
When I started at Howard, I didn’t know what to expect of being a student-athlete leader. Today, I can say it has been a positive experience, as I see underserved communities here in D.C. learn important information about sexual health, especially that sex is a part of everyone’s life, whether you want to address it or not. As a young adult, I don’t see sex as a taboo issue and I most definitely don’t back down from talking about sex (thanks Grassroot!). Yet I was never taught about the subject in the way TGP does, using interactive, hands-on activities to address serious topics about sex.
Seeing myself as part of a marginalized community like the LGBTQ+ community has also strengthened my personal leadership role here in D.C. “You are they, and she is him. I am my, and he is the self” is a line I added to ‘To Wander and Wonder’ because being my authentic self when educating younger kids is very important to me so they can see that someone’s sexual identity can be on a spectrum. And on that spectrum, they should be aware of others around them. I am happy to say that The Grassroot Project has slowly implemented LGBTQ+-related issues into their curriculum, and I am very excited to see where TGP goes from here.
My voice in the public health community matters, and so does my own individual, authentic voice. I love to serve my community and others that surround me daily. I hope that my legacy at The Grassroot Project continues for generations to come, and I believe that the work that I am doing is only the beginning.
So welcome to my world. Are you willing to step in and join me?