May is Barbara’s month. In the United States, May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Since it first began in 1991 in North Carolina, National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month (NTPPM) has taken root and grown throughout the country. As a result, hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and communities throughout the United States will seize upon the annual moment NTPPM offers to rally their communities to reduce adolescent pregnancy. Over the remaining days of NTPPM 2014, articles and editorials in support of teen pregnancy prevention will be run in newspapers; faith communities will conduct services that include a focus on sexual responsibility and the value of parent/child communication about sex; mayors, even governors, will sign proclamations; and special forums will be held, just to name a few of the many possible activities. Already this month, both Seventeen has featured an article on teen pregnancy resources and The Huffington Post has posted an editorial in recognition of NTPPM. National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month has also inspired important offshoots. For example, in conjunction with NTPPM, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has been sponsoring the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy which is two days from now, May 7th.
But May is Barbara’s month. Barbara Huberman, as the CEO of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Council of North Carolina (APPCNC), created Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in 1991. When she relocated to Washington, DC in 1995 to join the staff of Advocates for Youth, with the permission of APPCNC, she brought Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month with her and launched it as a national initiative. Every year since then, beginning in Winter, Barbara begins to get ready for the upcoming NTPPM. As recently as 2011, Barbara and her interns updated and refreshed the NTPPM planning guide which is available as a free download from Advocates for Youth.
Barbara is one of the closest friends and colleagues I’ve ever had. I met her for the first time in 1995 at a conference in Washington, DC, just as she was beginning her tenure at Advocates for Youth. I’m not sure when I really became friends with Barbara. It just seems, from the very first, that we have always been friends. In 1999, after pestering me incessantly for two years, Barbara convinced me to go on a European study tour that she had put together for people working in the field of adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention. It was a remarkable experience and the brief documentary about the timeless, revolutionary findings of the study continues to fascinate audiences fifteen years later.
Barbara is the reason that I relocated from my home state of Iowa to Washington, DC. She was instrumental in my recruitment and hiring at Advocates for Youth. I’ve never quite figured out what Barbara saw in me that told her I’d be a good bet, but I’m glad she saw it. For nearly eight years I had the most incredible experience of working side-by-side with her. Together we built stronger, more sophisticated and sustainable statewide adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention organizations throughout the United States. In that time we supported several existing organizations that Barbara had had a role in creating and together we helped bring to life several new organizations. While at Advocates for Youth, we collaborated to create the National Support Center for State Teen Pregnancy Prevention Organizations and we started the State Organization Leadership Academy and Roundtable. We loved our work and we had great fun working together.
The hours and days of travel together gave us lots of time to talk, often over dinner or in airports waiting for our flights. In these moments was when we learned the most from each other. Barbara has been a mentor to many people, including me, but she is also a lifelong learner. In 2009, when I started my doctoral program, Barbara became one of my strongest supporters and loudest cheerleaders. We would often talk about my studies and she would often ask me to share with her what I was learning through both my reading and my research. What has always been wonderful about our friendship and working relationship is that we did not always have to agree. We usually did, but not always. Though even in disagreement, our friendship thrived and created a safe space for us to remain engaged professionally until we worked out the conflict.
Barbara Huberman is more than a friend. She is a member of our family of choice who is often with us for birthdays, weddings, and just for fun. With my family, and many of our friends in common, we trek to Wolftrap on Memorial Day weekend each year to enjoy the Saturday night performance of A Prairie Home Companion which is also broadcast live on public radio. We spread out a blanket, unfold our chairs, enjoy a “potluck” picnic, and settle in for the show. (I’m behind the camera in the photo to the left.)
Much, however, has changed in the past year. In March, 2013, I left Advocates for Youth to complete my doctoral research and dissertation. At about the same time, Barbara received a diagnosis of leukemia. Though she has bravely fought it and has been fiercely determined to beat it, it now appears she will not. Since leaving Advocates for Youth, Barbara and I have stayed as closely in touch as her illness will allow. For several months we’d meet regularly at our favorite diner for lunch or dinner. When she began a second round of intensive chemotherapy in early January, we’d communicate via email or text. More recently, as the illness has gained ground, the messages have come less frequently. In one of the last messages I received from her, Barbara asked me to attend on her behalf an event that is honoring her role in helping to start the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. On Wednesday, May 7th, my spouse and I will be traveling to Columbia, SC to be there for Barbara. It is a sad duty for me but one that I’m deeply honored to perform.
It is my reflection on Barbara’s life and professional contributions in preparation for this event that has inspired this posting. I often use this space to write about community engagement, leadership, sustainability, and other such matters. There is much in Barbara’s life and work that speaks to these issues. One of the most important lessons I, and many others, have learned from Barbara Huberman is the difference that one person can make. There is a plenary presentation that I’ve seen her do on a few occasions that really captures the essence of that message. Her presentation always ends with this video. I hope you’ll take the one minute and 43 seconds it takes to view it; it is well worthwhile.
National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month stands as an example of the power of one person to make a difference. Barbara understands, though, the power in shared leadership as well. Barbara has always believed that she alone should not and could not “own” NTPPM if it were to be successful. She supported the efforts of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s efforts to establish the National Day within NTPPM. She has continuously made herself, her ideas, and NTPPM materials freely available to leaders of statewide teen pregnancy prevention organizations. Yet NTPPM was just one of the many innovations Barbara introduced to the field of adolescent sexual health. With each of them, she felt it was important that others embrace them and make them their own if they were to be successful.
When I finished defending my dissertation, my committee chair, Beth Birmingham, gave me a card with a message she had written, using the metaphor of dance (we are both ballroom dancers) to describe the learning journey we had taken together. I share it below because it so beautifully illustrates an important aspect of shared leadership and I also believe it is a message Barbara could give to any one of us she has mentored over the years:
When this dance started…you only had a vague understanding of the overall stage…I agreed to lead. We took to the dance floor, took to our positions and began, me leading, you tentatively following and together making the way…slowly and surely, with each turn around the floor, you found your footing and soon, your expertise and ability surpassed mine, you took the lead and I became the follower. You found your feet, you gained not just experience but expertise and today you’ve established your leadership. Thank you for letting me partner with you in this wonderful dance.
For me, Barbara’s belief in the power of one and the value of shared leadership has had a profound impact. It led her to befriend and “dance” with a teen pregnancy prevention program developer and organization leader she found in Iowa, freely sharing her insights, ideas, vision, dreams and material with him. It led her to entrust these to me with the hope and expectation that I would continue, and extend, some of her work. I have always seen this as a challenging expectation, yet I am honored to be so trusted by Barbara and have promised that I will do all I can to honor that trust in return. That includes, I believe, affirming to the next generation of leaders, that the art of social change requires the courage and power of one person to step up, and then to intuitively step back at the right time, to share leadership with others in order to achieve sustainable greater good.
Thank you for this dance, Barbara. Here’s to you, in May, a month that will always be yours.