When she was 15 years old, Shelby Knox signed a pledge to save herself for her wedding night after hearing an abstinence-only lecture. But by her senior year in high school, Knox began to wonder why she'd never received any sex education.
Knox's Lubbock, Texas, high school had an abstinence-only message, so she began to lobby for change. Her efforts were documented by PBS in the film The Education of Shelby Knox.
Now a college sophomore, Knox spoke in Memphis last Saturday at a rally for Girls for Change, a new local group that encourages teens to take a stand for what they believe.
"It's about organizing girls to be activists for themselves and in their schools and communities," said Tammy Prater, a University of Memphis graduate student who assists the group. "We want to give them a voice to express issues that are important to them."
Prater said the group will not focus solely on sex education, though that is one issue they'll explore. Girls for Change was formed after the University of Memphis' Center for Research on Women (CROW) hosted a forum on teen sex last December. At the first meeting, girls identified self-esteem and sexual harassment as other areas to address.
"We want to see the girls speak up for themselves on whatever issues are important to them," said Prater. "If they're touched inappropriately or have their boobs grabbed in the hallway, we want to make them feel like they're powerful enough to demand that the administration do something about it."
Teresa Diener, another graduate student who works with the group, said about 90 people showed up at Saturday's rally. Before the rally, Girls for Change had about 30 members from 18 different schools.
"The first members learned about the group through word-of-mouth," said Diener. "Members of the Memphis Area Women's Council sent e-mails to their daughters, and their daughters sent e-mails to their friends."
Five graduate students help facilitate meetings, and Memphis Area Women's Council director Deborah Clubb and CROW's Rebecca Turrell also guide the organization.
"It's their organization, though," said Diener. "We're just giving them the information that we have. We want the organization to be driven by the girls and not the adults."
The group is still working on action plans for the issues they want to address. The next meeting is set for June 17th at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.