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Mentoring girls

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 2/18/2009, 5 p.m.

Los Angeles, CA -- "Should anal sex hurt every time?"

If this question were printed in a women's magazine like Essence or Elle, very few people would have a problem with the question. But this inquiry did not come from the pages of such a publication. Instead it came from a seventh grade girl and was posed to Jennifer Payne during one session of her mentoring program--Success Thrives Around Respect (S.T.A.R.)
Shocked? Most people would be but not Payne. From surveys she has conducted among girls 13 to 18, in particular at Westchester High School, the former educator found that ninth graders were the most sexually active girls.

"It (the survey results) let me know that students are having sex younger and younger; when a seventh grader comes up to me and asks, 'is anal sex supposed to hurt every time.'"

But Payne encourages those types of questions and many more in her program, which is designed to help girls understand the health risks involved in being sexually active. She does this by having frank discussions with the girls.

Payne currently meets once a week with 20 to 25 girls at Jefferson High School in collaboration with a program called Sister Circle, and also conducts assemblies in other schools around special events like National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The point of her efforts is to help young women learn the dangers of contracting HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) through unprotected sex.

Payne does this without sugar coating the message. It's done through conversations that don't preach but discuss the things that happen to the girls during their daily lives.

"This is nontraditional mentoring, and I add a lot of my personal experiences (to the conversation); Because I'm human and I've gone through things. I'm a woman, a woman with feelings. We just talk to them, because a lot of them need someone to sit down and take the time to talk to them."

Topics covered in the 1 hr. and 15 min. session include blood clots and birth control; life and/or college after pregnancy; the trials, tribulations and triumphs of raising a child; understanding that often young men who are after sex don't know what they are doing and are experimenting with girls; self respect; and career goals.

Payne conceived S.T.A.R. While teaching 9th and 10th graders English and oral communications at a performing arts campus in the Detroit Public schools.

"There I witnessed sexual behavior on school grounds and in the parking lot. The conversations that I heard were things of that nature. It was so mind boggling, it made me want to start a program to help them out. To make them aware of who they were as young ladies, and how important it was to respect themselves," Payne explained of her nearly six-year-old non-profit organization.

Because of the very frank nature of her discussion with the girls, Payne said she sometimes encounters resistance from schools and parents, and it is the resistance from that latter group which bothers her the most.

"I'm really saddened and surprised. A lot of parents have their heads buried in the sand; it's mind boggling," Payne lamented.

Despite her tussles to get the information out there, Payne is hopeful that she is making a difference, and looks forward to one day having to dismantle her foundation because everyone really does know.

The S.T.A.R. Foundation can be reached at (818) 235-8270.