Jennifer Early

2021 Golden Women

Book Scholarship Winner

Pursuing Master's Degree in Social Work

Howard University

Why continuing an education is so important to her:

"I have always wanted to do work that was impactful, in service to others and aimed at the betterment of my community. Driven by the mantra of “lifting as we climb,” I believe that in doing work, it is in doing it with love that creates the very essence of change and transformation. In social work I have found a passion that has allowed me to be a stronger advocate for mental health and wellness. For this reason, I have chosen to attend the Graduate School of Social Work at Howard University in the Fall 2021.

As an educator I have found that there is no stronger mind than a healthy one and all too often we bypass the mental health experiences of high school and college students. Continuing my education is important to me because I am passionate about the postsecondary success of African American students. Especially those who come from low-income backgrounds and are first generation. In my work I always come across student stories of imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety, trauma, and feelings of loneliness that often plague both the high school and college experience. My hopes upon graduation is to enter into work in higher education that is aimed at promoting college retention through addressing the mental health needs of Black students. Especially if the campus is considered a predominantly white institution. It is crucial that our black students have stronger pipelines for mental health support."

Jennifer proudly supports:

Suicide Prevention Coalition

The Family and Children's Trust Committee (FACT)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Richmond, CA Branch

Jennifer, what does the term “Golden Women” mean to you?

For me, golden women are fearless. They move with a passion to make a difference regardless of the road paved ahead. Boldly speaking truth to power she has the capacity to enact change. To be fearless is to be brave. There are so many moments in life where we question our decisions, looking at every aspect of what could go wrong without first acknowledging all that could go right. Golden women are fearfully unafraid to fly, encouraging those around them to be better while lifting them up with love, grace and compassion. A golden woman gives back not because she has to, but because she wants to. Bold, brave and without fear a golden woman is authentically herself.

Jennifer, describe something that is plaguing young women today and explain what can be done to turn it around? What can you do to help?

The commercial sexual exploitation of children or C.S.E.C. is a very serious issue that plagues young women today. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2011, almost 95% of sex trafficked victims were female and over half were 17 years of age or younger. In 2020 nearly 26,500 runaways were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with 1 in 6 likely becoming a victim of child sex trafficking. In the United States alone the most common age entry into prostitution is between 12 to 14 years of age.

One of the most vulnerable communities at risk for trafficking is young Black girls. In Alameda county alone over 70% of at risk or CSEC are under the age of 18, and according to the District attorney's office more than 60% are African American. This is not only a statistic that affects Alameda County and cities like Oakland, CA. This issue is and data is seen throughout the United States. There are various factors that contribute to making youth vulnerable to sex trafficking like poverty, being unhoused and homeless, being a victim of sexual abuse, disconnection from school therefore becoming truant, family instability and out-of-home foster care placement among others.

While working in student attendance compliance for Oakland Public Schools, I saw this issue first hand at both the school level and district level. In my opinion policy, language and education is needed more than ever when fighting against the CSEC. Policy that decriminalizes the victim of trafficking is important as children who are trafficked are not “prostitutes” and should not be labeled as such by our justice systems. This strips away the reality that the child is an unwilling participant and victim of abuse. It suggests that there was an element of choice and that the child could have been voluntary in their action.

Accordingly, there should be a line of required training for educators, health providers, and social workers that speaks to implicit and explicit bias as well as the signs of a child who is CSEC and the appropriate language to use and steps to take. These providers are important bridges to safety, help and support for victims of trafficking. Furthermore it is important to begin to have conversations around CSEC with youth and what this means and how we can become an advocate and voice for change. It is important to understand myths vs facts and most importantly we have to break down existing stigmas.