Brittany has been a lifelong activist whose work centers on supporting girls of color’s sexual and reproductive health. She shares how she reclaimed innovation, after many years of building activism as a tool for resistance and resilience. She used the CoreAlign fellowship to build her own innovation mindset, redefining technology with community stories of survival.
Social change work found me. In my young adult life there was so much I couldn’t change or have control over. My answer was to change the world. My mom died before my second birthday and my dad died right as I was turning four. I was bounced from household to household, and everyone had a different idea of what they thought was most important for me, a child that had undergone serious grief and trauma. I was rebellious because there was so much I didn’t understand. In third grade, I got kicked out of my girl scout group for questioning how race and class played into cookie sales. In high school, I was part of an anti-sexual violence group at my Catholic school. Everytime we got shut down, we rebranded to make sure it stayed present. While I didn’t have the words to say ‘I am an activist,’ I was clear that I had some mission in the world to shift the status quo. It was something I was called to do.
The summer before my senior year of high school, my best friend Nigel was stabbed on his way home, and it took the ambulance about an hour to arrive. I researched and found out that the EMT’s response is dependent on your neighborhood. I begged my mom to give me money so I could take EMT classes. I was the only black person and the youngest person in my EMT class. I decided that I wanted to be a doctor who responded to emergencies in places where trauma existed, and entered a pre-medical program.
During a pre-medical school program on diabetes in which a medical team ignored the impact of the prison system on an individual’s health and wellness (instead focusing on his choice to eat French fries), I decided to become a public health practitioner. I started working on sexual and reproductive health specifically to address disparities among people of color. I fell in love with reproductive justice, but struggled to find where reproductive justice is actualized in the sexual health world. I found myself in a very lonely place trying to support girls of color who were experiencing extreme health disparities around sexual reproductive health, without leaning on deficit based work.
I was looking for a place to support me in shifting mindsets around young people and sexuality and applied to CoreAlign’s Generative Fellowship to build a curriculum. I wanted help producing a tangible deliverable and didn’t even see the innovation part of the application. But the fellowship became less about my curriculum as I fell in love with learning how to solve problems in different ways. My mind was blown by innovation. I was trying to learn what it means to be generative. I have always been innovative, but I wanted to know what these design principles meant in my life. What if I don’t hold my ideas so close to my chest? What if ideas don’t grow that way?
It felt like I was at CoreAlign to figure out what innovation meant, and the program allowed me to see innovation in so many ways. People have a mindset of production or bust, and I found myself asking “Who teaches you this?” I released the idea that technology or innovation has to do with a screen. Innovation is an embodied practice, it’s not a theoretical thing. The way that your grandmother makes chicken is technology, right?
I always tell people the story of jerk chicken and how it came to be. Enslaved people in Jamaica would get a chicken, cover it in hot spices to get rid of bacteria, wrap it in banana leaves, and bury it when they were on the run from slaveholders. Then, other enslaved people would find it. It would have been in the ground cooking for hours and when slaveholders came after them, they would be able to get this chicken and eat while they were on the run. How fucking innovative is that? Survival.
CoreAlign allowed me access to those stories and to the many ways in my own life that I was innovative in order to survive, in order to thrive, and in order to create new possibilities. I had the idea that I never finished my fellowship because I didn’t finish the curriculum. But at the end, I was like “Yo, you actually did finish the fucking fellowship. Brittany, you got the thing. You got the thinking.”