SiHLE Program Offers A Rich Mosaic Of Skills And Values, By Black Women For Black Women
Spartanburg, S.C. -- African-American teenage
girls ages 16-18 will have an opportunity to build pride in their
gender and ethnicity while learning valuable life skills aimed at
reducing sexually-transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and
physical and emotional abuse when they take part in a program offered
by University of South Carolina Upstate students who have been trained
in the SiHLE (Swahili word meaning beautiful) curriculum.
will be selected from the Viking Academy at Spartanburg High School.
Sessions will be held each Saturday in February from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m. The Saturday sessions will include two weeks of readings in Black
feminism, followed by four weeks of sessions with the teens, and
culminating in a presentation by the Upstate students and teens to the
community, faculty, and other interested leaders.
(Sistering, Informing, Healing, Living and Empowering) peer education
program is designed to so that participants can develop the strong
interpersonal skills they will need to build healthy relationships. Led
by African American females, the program consists of small group
discussions, training, and role-playing that educate participants about
HIV risks and how to initiate conversations about abstinence, safe sex,
and effective communications skills.
“The SiHLE initiative is
currently a staple on the campuses of many historically black colleges
and universities because it has proven to be an effective intervention
tool for at-risk populations,” said Dr. Lisa Johnson, director of the
Center for Women’s and Gender Studies Programs at USC Upstate.
was asked to develop a mentoring program for African Americans when she
came to USC Upstate in 2007. In her opinion, the best way to serve the
African American community is to equip the teenage girls with skills to
handle their romantic relationships more effectively and retain a sense
“I shared my story of being in an abusive romantic
relationship as a teenage girl in hopes that girls in Spartanburg won’t
have to go down that road,” said Johnson.
collaborating with Teretha Fowler, who currently works with adult women
who are HIV positive. Their aim was to create a program that would
significantly reduce the number cases of HIV in African American and
Hispanic populations, and to equip young women with basic assertiveness
Fowler is one of two Center for Disease Control-approved
trainers in South Carolina for the SISTA program. SISTA, which is the
parent program for SiHLE, is an intervention program aimed at reducing
the risks of African American women (ages 18-29) becoming affected by
“While SISTA works with adult women, the SiHLE program
strives to teach the same skill set to adolescent girls by providing
them with the opportunity to ask questions and to talk openly and
honestly. SiHLE helps the girls to realize their own self worth, to
understand what a healthy relationship looks like, and to define what
they want out of their relationships,” said Fowler.
used to reduce HIV are the same skills that will reduce emotional
abuse, physical abuse, teenage pregnancy, and any other type of
relationship problem,” said Johnson. “When teenage girls learn
assertiveness skills, effective problems solving skills, and gender and
ethnic pride, they can begin to take control of their lives.”
teaches the participants to value the traits of black womanhood, such
as curly hair, dark skin and curvy bodies. These traits are often
portrayed as negative by the mainstream media so teaching the girls to
take pride in their physical traits also helps them to be more willing
to draw boundaries in their own lives. Additionally, the teenage girls
are talking and working with African American college women who can be
role models for them and set an example to which they can aspire.
bring the teens to the USC Upstate campus and let them attend events
and get a feel of what college life is like and see who they can be in
the future, if they make positive life choices,” said Johnson. “This
semester the program will include selected field trips to campus to see
speakers like black women’s responses to hip hop culture. We want to
expand their horizons and their knowledge base.”
Upstate launched the SiHLE program in 2007, 12 teens from Cornerstone
Baptist Church participated, thanks to the work of Letitia Jones. This
fall, nine at-risk students from Spartanburg High School participated.
started as a mentoring program proved much more in-depth. The Program
is exceeding our wildest dreams,” said Johnson, who points to the
strong support of Rep. Harold Mitchell and grant funding from
Spartanburg High School as indicators of the program’s success.
Rice, a junior majoring in business/marketing at USC Upstate, and has
been involved as a mentor with SiHLE from its beginning. She was
recruited from Johnson’s Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, a
staple course in the curriculum of the Women’s and Gender Studies
minor. Rice’s extraordinary leadership skills led to her recent naming
as assistant coordinator for the SiHLE program for spring 2009. She
will create weekly lesson plans, coordinate with the trainer, the peer
educators and the teens.
Teens in the Spartanburg community most
definitely need to be taught the skills that SiHLE offers,” said Rice,
a native of Spartanburg. “When you have friends who are in high school
who are sleeping around and having babies, they need to know that they
have other choices. Teaching them assertiveness skills, about
abstinence and safe sex, and how to talk to their families about these
subjects is important. Teenage girls need to be strong, able to stand
up for themselves, and be able to break the cycle of teen pregnancies
in their families.”
Porcha Barksdale, a senior at Spartanburg
High School, participated in the SiHLE program last year and hopes to
be selected for this year’s program. “I learned so much! They taught us
that just because you have a boyfriend and you love that person,
doesn’t mean that you should be pressured into doing something that you
are ready to do.”
Because there is frank discussion about
abstinence, sexual relationships, sexually transmitted diseases, teen
pregnancy, and motherhood, each teen has to present a signed parental
permission slip to participate in the SiHLE program. The teens
role-play various situations so they can have firm answers to help them
defuse an emotionally intense situation without alienating an intimate
partner or family member.
One participant last year struggled
with issues beyond relationship problems and shared those with the
group. Her family was getting evicted on the very day of one of the
training sessions and they had nowhere to go. The program helped her by
teaching her to respect herself no matter the circumstances.
says that exposing the teens to USC Upstate is an incentive for them.
They meet college students like Rice and Kayla Greene and Ebony Smith,
who all serve as mentors, get exposed to the African American
sororities, and see that they need good life skills in order to go to
Barksdale found the USC Upstate students to be good
role models who shared a lot about their lives. “They shared a lot of
stories with us and basically told us that it is okay to be different.
They try to help us do what we need to do to help us make a better life
for ourselves. I want to learn more.”
“I’m from Spartanburg so I
know many of these girls and have known them since they were little,
said Rice. “I let them know that I’m watching them and want them to do
better. What we need in Spartanburg is more strong women, more strong
For more information, contact Dr. Lisa Johnson, director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at USC Upstate, at (864) 503-5724.