COLUMBIA — Akara Ingram knows the game all too well. She can remember the way her male classmates in high school would attempt to flirt with her, and she incorporates their pick-up lines into her safer-sex presentations where she role-plays with young female students.
"Sometimes I challenge them," said Ingram, a life skills coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of the Columbia Area. "What if your partner didn't want to use protection? So then I'm throwing game to them like I'm a guy. They think its funny, but then they can put themselves in that situation."
Ingram's work is part of her internship for a graduate degree in public health at MU. She was one of 12 other educators selected to work with young adults and parents in break-out sessions and presentations on Friday and Saturday during the Love and Basketball tournament. The event combined basketball with health-focused seminars and workshops for teens on love and healthy relationships. It was organized by the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and the First Ward Ambassadors.
Ingram knows firsthand the challenges on presenting to teens and getting them to open up - maybe for the first time - about issues surrounding sex and dating.
"You have to let them know you don't have to be ashamed about sexuality or to ask questions," Ingram said. "I don't know them, I didn't know their history. That judgment, it wasn't there."
When working with teenagers, Ingram chooses to dress comfortably. White tank top, jean capris and flip-flops help set up a relationship with the teens in which she is on their level and can speak to them like an older cousin or trusted friend.
"I feel I can connect with them," Ingram said. "You have to. I let them know that what goes on in this room stays in this room."
Maureen Coy, health educator for the health department, saw the first Love and Basketball tournament as a successful event for parents and their children to get good health information.
"We got 97 kids today to do something on a weekend, some involved with their parents doing something they might not normally do," Coy said. "They got some good practice with the basketball, and they got good information."
For Ingram, the satisfaction of working with teens and young adults is in the moment of clarity.
"The most rewarding part is that, ‘Wow, I didn't know that,'" Ingram said. "Their eyes literally open, like ‘I didn't think about that.' I'm like , ‘OK, they heard me.'"