How do you get 30-odd college students into a room to talk about genitalia?
Kayla Lawson, a junior at Florida A&M University (FAMU) who founded a Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter on campus last year, is a pro at this.
“Just put a twist on it!” Kayla, a native of Tampa, Fla., says. “Our chapter recently held a genital health workshop and called it ‘My Goodies.’ To encourage people to learn about something, you have to make it fun.”
In just a few months, Kayla has built FAMU’s Generation Action chapter — part of Planned Parenthood’s network of more than 300 college campus chapters nationwide — from the ground up. Through Generation Action, young organizers and activists across the country organize events on their campuses and in their communities to mobilize advocates for reproductive freedom. FAMU’s chapter already boasts dozens of members and has held several advocacy and education events.
Kayla, second from left, founded FAMU Generation Action last year. Here she is with some of her fellow club members.
Kayla says the skills she learned as a multimedia journalist student and aspiring reporter have made her a better organizer. She’s excited about engaging her FAMU classmates and getting them excited about advocating for women’s health.
“As a journalist, I believe in the power of knowledge and getting people hip to the cause. I also love hosting fun events!” she says. “My work with Generation Action allows me combine both.”
Kayla reporting on a story live.
Read more of our interview with Kayla below.
Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA): Hey Kayla! How did you decided to start a FAMU Generation Action chapter?
Kayla Lawson (KL): Last year, some friends and I decided we would walk down to Railroad Square (an art fair in downtown Tallahassee, Fla., where FAMU is located). Planned Parenthood was tabling there. I’ve always been vocal about social injustice and women's rights, but I didn't know much about Planned Parenthood.
I got to talking with Rosie, the organizer at the table, and she mentioned that she was looking to start a Generation Action chapter at FAMU. I was like, ‘That sounds so cool!’ There are so many orgs and clubs on my campus, but I knew this would be a unique opportunity.
Planned Parenthood really values young people and our work ethic. They really help build you as a person. They give you anything you need — all the resources that you need for success.
PPGA: Awesome! Besides “My Goodies,” what’s some other programming your chapter has done?
KL: We recently held an ice cream social called “Get the Scoop.” Get it? We had a Planned Parenthood organizer come and help destigmatize some of the myths about reproductive health. On a regular basis, we table at FAMU’s Set Friday.
Right now, we’re planning another event called "Consent is Sexy," which is especially important on college campuses. We’re inviting male organizations! We’re also collaborating with Florida State University on their Take Back the Night event, and collecting clothes for the local domestic violence center.
FAMU Generation Action's table at Set Friday.
PPGA: Wow, that’s impressive! What advice would you give to other young women of color who want to get involved in reproductive rights activism?
KL: Don't think too deep into it, or make your events too instructional. As young people, we know what we and our peers like. Don't be afraid to use your connections on campus to recruit people and collaborate with other groups. The most rewarding thing is seeing other people get involved with the movements, people who probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in the movement.
PPGA: Are you celebrating Black History Month? Are there any figures in particular that you are honoring?
Having a blast at the "My Goodies" event!
PPGA: FAMU is a historically Black college or university (HBCU), a group of higher education institutions that have produced some of the country’s best leaders, thinkers, and talents — from actor Chadwick Boseman to authors Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison. What does attending an HBCU mean to you?
KL: HBCUs were built to promote Black excellence. Historically, Black people have been shut down from predominantly White institutions. If it weren't for HBCUs, many Black leaders wouldn’t be here today. Learning about the culture and history [of HBCUs] was so important to me. And it’s important to note that you don't need to go to an HBCU to learn that. People died for our rights so that Black people could attend other institutions, too.
PPGA: As demonstrated by the 2016 election and the recent special election in Alabama, Black women carry immense power to the polls. As another election season approaches, how are you preparing?
KL: I definitely feel energized. Black women voters are consistent. You're always going to see them vote for the right candidate. I saw the results from [the Alabama special election]. No other demographic got close to those number. I love how unified we are; we’re on the same wavelength.
Now, I want to carry that momentum to Florida state and local elections. I want people to realize that it's not just about national elections. I want to use FAMU Generation Action to mobilize young people and motivate Black people to vote.
FAMU Generation Action members attended Florida House of Representatives hearing.
PPGA: Who inspires you?
KL: Dr. Thelma Patten Law! I didn't know that much about her until I went to a Planned Parenthood summit. She was one of the first medical professionals who aided Planned Parenthood and [did] the work people were afraid to do. And, of course, Shirley Chisholm and all her political work. Plus Rihanna and Beyonce!
PPGA: Due to systemic barriers, women of color (WOC) are disproportionately affected by things like maternal mortality and other reproductive complications. In your advocacy, how do you work to overcome these barriers?
KL: It's really interesting to see how being a WOC is a disadvantage sometimes. But I always see it as an advantage. For example, if it had been just anybody coming to campus and trying to start FAMU Generation Action, it might not have worked. But people know me and trust me.
I also try to use my connections as a journalist. I have the power to put out certain stories that people need to hear. Like, Tallahassee just hired its first Black female [motorcycle] cop. As a journalist, I can use my platform to distribute that information.