Willa Marth on Black History Month
Willa Marth, the Director of Education & Organizational Effectiveness at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, shares her perspective on Black History Month:
I was born in 1968, pre Roe, just a couple months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to parents whose access to birth control and condoms was likely limited. I was placed for adoption with a white family. The impact of that decision has been significant in many ways. For one, my commitment to advocating for access to sexual health education and services stems from those experiences. I was raised in a loving family that greatly valued education; however, sexual health education was not something I received. Like many kids, I learned the truths and untruths from my friends. Years later when I started working for a Planned Parenthood health center I asked my parents why they never spoke to me about sex and they looked at each other confused and said, “I thought you talked to her.” I was determined when I became a mother I would intentionally talk to my children about sex, their bodies, relationships, etc. As a parent of two black daughters I approach both black identity and sexual health education in a much more intentional way. My daughters are strong, creative black girls that I hope will grow into strong black women who know who they are and what they want.
At home I have tried to cultivate an environment where we talk openly about race and sexual health. My primarily black mother daughter group had Planned Parenthood educators come and talk with our 8- 10-year-olds about puberty and sex. My fifth grader just celebrated her transition from childhood to adolescence with a lighthearted red themed dinner. My teenage daughter continues to ask me questions about sexual health and relationships. How different this is than my adolescence.
Parents want help and young people want help, too. Although, I have taught these topics for years as an educator, it is different as a mother. Answering their questions is at once fun, challenging, and at times even scary. Do you still have crushes? How long does my period last? Did you date in high school? Should I get tested? Safe places are essential and trusted organizations like Planned Parenthood can help both young people and parents create those conversations. I am so grateful that both my girls continue to ask me questions and declare what they want for themselves and their futures.
Things have greatly changed from 1968, and I am grateful to have more skills and resources than my parents did to talk with my daughters about sexual health and racial identity. My girls will have their own unique stories to tell, and I hope one small part is that I supported their growth and identity. During Black History Month we have an opportunity to continue to share our stories with our children about who we are, what we hope for them, and more importantly listen to who they are and who they want to be. In ways big and small I am contributing toward the fight for the healthiest generation.