Healthy Futures Helped Pave the Way for Texas Advocate & Educator Veronica Ray Whitehead
By Eleni Pacheco
Sitting in her women’s health class just seven years ago, Veronica Ray Whitehead felt angry.
“I thought why am I twenty-two and just learning this information? I knew I had to hold people accountable.” It was this moment that solidified Ray Whitehead’s career in sexual health. “I went and talked to my professor and she said ‘you’re a health educator’ and laid out to me what that looks like.” Veronica sought an opportunity to experience health education and, with support from her network, she learned about Healthy Futures of Texas.
A San Antonio native, Ray Whitehead remembers her internship with Healthy Futures fondly. “Internships can be powerful if done intentionally,” she exclaimed. “What I appreciated was that [Healthy Futures] was intentional on who I was paired with. They wanted it to be a meaningful experience for me.” Through her experience in the Health Education program, and more specifically with the Youth Advocacy Council (YAC), Veronica grew and developed skills and perspectives that she has carried throughout her career.
“I really saw the power of youth voices through YAC,” Ray Whitehead stated, adding that the structure of the YAC program has set precedents for the work she does with Ntraupt’s Young Women’s Advisory Council (YWAC). “I think about my experience with YAC and how to attain that level of youth engagement in a way that allows youth to own the program.” She highlighted the importance of the culture and atmosphere Healthy Futures has created. “I will forever be grateful for how much [my supervisor] trusted me . . . that level of trust has inspired who I am as an employee and supervisor. Having that open communication with the people you work with – I’m so glad I experienced that. A lot of young professionals don’t get that experience and have to unlearn that.”
As the Director of Programs, Ray Whitehead now has a hand in all of Ntarupt’s (North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens) efforts, making her a powerhouse for sexual health in Dallas and Texas. In many ways, Ray Whitehead is an innovator in the field, working towards creating culturally responsive and equitable programs that will unite Dallas youth with sex education that goes beyond medical accuracy to include historical accuracy as well. Her freedom to progress the programs in this way, however, is in part to the experience she’s acquired through Healthy Futures. As a principal investigator, Ray Whitehead “oversees sub-recipients who deliver programming as well. Healthy Futures was a sub-recipient, so it’s helpful to understand that perspective of what worked and what didn’t work,” she reported. “And my experience with YAC helped form the initial thought processes for YWAC . . . how to work in conjunction with young people not working under adults, but as a collective,” she said, underlining the importance of compensating young people for their time and expertise. “Incentivizing young people is something we are currently writing into the grant.”
With advocates like Veronica Ray Whitehead working to create change, we are sure to see a transformation in Texas’ sexual health outcomes. Ray Whitehead’s vision for the future is no small feat. She firmly believes that “trauma-informed, LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed based in science and history is a basic human right. The perfect future is one in which all people, all people, receive – not just have access to – that kind of sex education. The perfect future is one in which the culture of talking about sex is not based in shame or fear but driven by knowledge and is affirmative to individual autonomy and decision-making. Healthcare in that future is the same, as well as affordable and accessible to everyone regardless of age, race, documentation status, where you live . . . that the zip code you live in does not dictate your health outcomes. That our jobs are no longer needed. I hope that one day young people will have nothing other than this perfect future and the present is no more than a cautionary tale.”
Want to connect with Veronica? You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about sexual health education efforts in North Texas visit www.talkaboutitdallas.com and follow @talkaboutitdallas on Instagram.