Jason goes by a few names in the schools where he teaches sexual health. “They call me Jay, Jayson, Mr. Sex, Mr. Condom, sometimes they call me Mr. Mayor. They definitely call me Snoop Dog.” He has worked in sexual and reproductive health for nearly 20 years. Jason is currently the male service coordinator for Public Health Solutions’ Sexual and Reproductive Health Centers, which provide sexual and reproductive healthcare services to over 4,000 Brooklyn community members in Fort Greene and Eastern Parkway.
Jason is tasked with giving balanced, accurate, and realistic sex education to local Brooklyn high school and college students. He does this in a classroom setting, but also provides one-on-one sexual health counseling—a service that is not required in NYC public schools. He refers young adults and men to our clinics where they can receive clinical sexual health services, like birth control, STI testing, gynecological exams, and male reproductive health exams.
PHS has had such success through Jason’s teen education program, that the NYC DOHMH has deemed our Centers to be ‘teen friendly’ reproductive centers, and has chosen both our sites to take part in the New York City Teens Connection program. Through this program, we are partnered as referral clinics for six additional local high schools. We are featured in the Teens in NYC Pocket Guide, and give tours and same-day appointments to students from participating schools.
We talked to Jason about his work, and how it impacts youth and men in Brooklyn.
PHS Tell us about your role at Public Health Solutions.
JT I serve Brooklyn youth, and outreach to men. A big part of my role is as a health educator in Brooklyn schools. I facilitate workshops on youth empowerment, sexual health, and safe sex.
One of the most important parts of what I do is refer people in the community to our Centers. My goal is for the youth to act on the information I give them. I want them to think, “Maybe I should get that checked out,” or “Maybe my girlfriend should be on birth control”. I want them to know there is a space for that. Most schools I go to are in the neighborhood of PHS’ Sexual and Reproductive Centers.
PHS What does it take to be a good teen health educator?
JT I have been involved in reproductive health since I was 14 years old, when I was a peer health educator. I have been doing this for a long time, and because of that I have a connection with youth. I can speak their language. Teens want to hear health information from a peer. I have learned that you have to pay attention to what they are paying attention to. I keep up with what’s going on in the media so I can keep them engaged.
This is a vulnerable time for them, so I am not judgmental. When you are judgmental, they never forget it, and they spread the word.
PHS Tell us more about your work with men.
“I think men should play a bigger role in birth control, and that may start with men as health educators.”
JT It is so important to include men in reproductive health. I think men should play a bigger role in birth control, and that may start with men as health educators. I want to be a role model for that. I do outreach all over the neighborhood, and even go into the local barber shops. I want to make sure that all men in our community are aware of reproductive health services.
PHS What is a “day in the life” for you at work?
JT I do a lot of facilitation in schools. I visit two to three schools a day, and a couple of classes in each school. My classes start with team building and basic youth empowerment, like self-esteem, goal setting, and conflict resolution. I build up to sexual health education by first establishing a good rapport and trust with my students.
Each school and classroom has a different culture. I adjust how I teach based on who is in my classroom. Sometimes it is hard to keep a classroom’s attention. Sometimes this is the only opportunity the students have to talk about sexual health, and they take full advantage. Those students will say, “We have questions, we want answers,” and will rapid fire sexual health questions.
PHS What barriers do the people you serve face to be healthy?
JT There are a few barriers. Socioeconomical factors are a big barrier. When people are poor, they have a hard time focusing on health. There are a lot of poor health outcomes in the communities we serve. Healthcare is expensive, and many do not have health insurance.
Another barrier for youth is that schools in these neighborhoods tend to have one main focus, and that is sending their students to college. I agree with this sentiment, but STDs and pregnancy can be a huge distraction to reach that goal. Sexual health should be integrated into college prep.
Of course, there is still great stigma around getting tested for STIs, or event to come to my office for more sexual health information. When I have a resource to get out there, I target the cool kids. I let the cool kids know first, and they spread the word to a lot of other students. They spread it faster than anything else can. Faster than the loud speaker.
In the international school where I teach, there are cultural barriers. My Muslim students are terrified to be seen at a reproductive health center. I try to normalize it. I remind them that their reproductive system is a part of their bodies just like their elbows, knees, and toes, and that they are not embarrassed to take care of those parts. So why be embarrassed about taking care of your reproductive health? These messages do eventually sink in, and those students will visit our reproductive centers for condoms when they are in college.
PHS Can you tell me about a time that you had success in breaking through these barriers?
JT I work in a school in Brownsville. It is very difficult. I am scheduled to go in during their gym period, and the boys would rather be in gym, and girls would rather sit and do nothing. It was a huge challenge to keep them engaged. But then I will see them come to the center. And they will bring their friends to the center. At the end of the year I am flooded with thank you cards, which reminds me that I am breaking through to them.
A few words from Jay’s students at Brooklyn International High School
PHS Can you tell me about a student who had an impact on you?
“All my kids make an impact on me.”
JT All my kids make an impact on me. In many different ways. They are all hilarious, unique, and bright. I tell them all the time, they make just as much an impact on me as I make on them. AND, they keep me young.
PHS What do you love most about your job?
JT Being able to make an impact in my community. I grew up in Bed-Stuy. A lot of the kids I teach are the kids and cousins of people I grew up with. I love being a positive role model to these kids. My students think I am fly. With all the negative role models out there in the media, it feels good to be a role model for these guys.
PHS At PHS, our mission is to improve the health and wellness of New Yorkers, especially vulnerable New Yorkers. What does our mission mean for the community members you serve?
“I grew up in these communities, and I know how vulnerable they are.”
JT I grew up in these communities, and I know how vulnerable they are. I hear them and I understand them. I want the youth to be able to build up their community. If I can give them real facts about sexual health, and that has a positive impact on their future—then we have obtained our mission.
At Public Health Solutions, we take a holistic approach to public health. We believe that clinical services and health education go hand in hand. When you support our work, you allow us to create more opportunities for staff like Jason to provide resources to vulnerable and at times forgotten community members. Consider becoming a committed donor today, and help us create a healthier New York City tomorrow. Your unrestricted contribution supports our work in helping vulnerable families and communities in New York City to thrive.