When I was 15 years old, I dreamed of changing the world. I don’t know what I was going to do—or how—but I knew that I’d make the world better one day. I was a great student, and teachers always said I had a bright future ahead of me…until I got pregnant. I was in all honors classes, had a 4.0 GPA, but I was pregnant, and all the dreams I had were no longer going to be possible according to the adults in my life because well, I was going to be changing diapers instead.
Fast forward 11 years: I’m a 26-year old college graduate raising two amazing children. I’m employed by one of the most respected nonprofits in the world, and I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Over the last decade, I’ve been busy working with organizations that specifically work to support young parents. I’ve become an advocate about the issues affecting women and girls, and I have taken part in the development of campaigns that seek to raise awareness of the discrimination that teen mothers still face.
Enter my most recent involvement: speaking out against the disgraceful campaign PSA’s developed by the Candie’s Foundation.
Recently the Candie’s Foundation released a few ads that seek to shame teen parents—especially teen mothers. I’m not a stranger to these kinds of ads. A few months ago, the City of New York released posters all over the city with images of children that were so inappropriate, the campaign sparked much debate. The Candie’s Foundation is doing the same thing by assuming teen mothers have reached the end of the road and have no future. A slogan in their ad, “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not diapers,” has raised a lot of controversy—and, in my case, much disappointment.
I was told that exact same thing by a person I love very much. She didn’t believe in me and felt so sorry for my situation. But contrary to this dismal outlook, being a teen parent meant that I was going to need a little more support and encouragement to meet my goals. I was going to have to take a different road to reach the same destination as my peers without children: success. It is frustrating to me to see adults, as our role models, set this precedent of judging others because of their situations. It saddens me that despite the fact that there are laws in place (like Title IX), people still look at these ads and forget that teen parents are people, too. The Candie’s Foundation and its approach are shameful because the message is that teen parents will not make any valuable contributions to their communities. If anything, these young people will be loving parents to another human being and that is an accomplishment on its own.
I will continue to work with a group of young mothers who, like me, are working hard in their communities to support teen mothers. These young women are bloggers, professionals, and community activists who, like me, had their children early in life. There are thousands of us all over the country and we’re all leaving our mark. As far as the six of us, we’re working hard to deliver a petition to the Candie’s Foundation and ask for these ads and these tactics to be stopped. We’re doing all this gracefully because after all, that’s what leaders do.
– Lisette Y. Orellana is a Blogger, Girls & Young Moms Advocate, and Public Speaker