MU student balances political and religious views

Friday, May 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:54 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 16, 2009
Tatiana McKinney is the Missouri representative for America's Great Condom campaign and is one of 11 members of the Young Women of Color Leadership Council. She has been active in social justice issues including reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS work since her freshman year. After graduation she is hoping to find a public relations position with a social justice organization.

COLUMBIA — Tatiana McKinney has had a busy college career.

Her lengthy resume details some of the events she has been involved in — celebrating the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion with an event at Planned Parenthood, for example, or attending the Choice USA Midwest Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute, which looks at reproductive health issues.

She passed out 500 condoms in an hour for the Great American Condom Campaign in November 2008. She has also lobbied in Washington, D.C., three times — once when she was the only one lobbying.

Last month, McKinney was awarded the Dr. Medgar Evers Political Award from the MU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for her activism for women's reproductive and sexual health rights.

McKinney, 21 and a graduating MU senior, used to be a what she calls a “quiet voice for women.” Now, she says, her voice has grown louder. But the first obstacle was her faith.

McKinney describes her mother and grandparents as “strict Christians,” though she herself was also a devout member of the Powerhouse Church of God in Christ. Because of her family’s religious affiliation and her grandparents’ pro-life views, McKinney feared telling them her political ideology.

In fact, her mother and grandparents didn’t learn about her activism until they read about it in an article, "'Pro-choice,' faithful — and proud," published in 2007 by a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

“Her grandparents don’t agree with (McKinney) being pro-choice, but we all still love and support her,” said McKinney's mother, Cynthia Jenkins.

Jenkins said she had always told her daughter that God gave humans a choice, and she must respect those choices.

McKinney said she remembers her mother teaching her about contraception at an early age. Reproductive education is important, McKinney said, especially for black women.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, Hispanic and black teen pregnancy rates are three times higher than the rates for white teens.

“You can give people all of the (sexual health) resources available, but if they don’t know how to use them, then they’re no better off,” McKinney said.

McKinney is active in Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, a group that "empowers youth and young adults to put their faith into action and advocate for pro-choice social justice," according to its Web site.

It was while working with the organization that she was able to coordinate the Planned Parenthood event as an intern. When she found the organization, McKinney said, she felt like she found a home of like-minded women in which she could remain religious and passionate in her activism.

McKinney said she hasn't always been an activist for women’s reproductive rights and sexual health. But a few events in her life instilled in her a sense of urgency in her activism.

In 1993, when McKinney was 5, one of her mother’s closest friends died from AIDS. Now, McKinney's face contorts into miserable shock as she says she saw her mother’s friend when her flesh was falling from her face, unable to understand the nature of AIDS.

“I wanted to see how to help somebody like that,” she said. 

Years later, when McKinney was a high school student in Batesville, Miss., she said her doctor denied her birth control. She said she thinks he did that because of his religious beliefs.

It was at that time that McKinney said, “I need to fix this.”

McKinney said one of her proudest moments came last year, when she convinced a group of her friends to go with her to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, something she said she used to be scared of. After the tests, she remembers everyone smiling, ready to go to work.

Evan Hamilton, an MU senior and McKinney's best friend, met her as a freshman and quickly learned of her work.

“Usually when (McKinney) speaks to an individual or a group, she knows what she's saying, and listening to what she has to say would be in the best interest of anyone within earshot,” Hamilton said.

He said he knows that most of McKinney’s battles are internal ones with her religion.

“She knows what she's supposed to believe,” he said. But being an advocate for women's reproductive rights and spiritual (something McKinney said she once thought was an oxymoron) is something Hamilton knows she embraces.

McKinney will graduate from MU on Saturday with a bachelor's degree in communication. She hopes to find a job that combines both of her passions: social justice and public relations.

Although she said she’s had multiple career opportunities (including an internship interview with Edelman, PRWeek magazine's 2009 public relations agency of the year), McKinney said she’s just excited to finally disburse the piles of sexual health pamphlets and condoms filling her room.

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Ray Shapiro May 15, 2009 | 12:26 a.m.

All handing out 500 condoms does is encourage promiscuity.
Why can't someone advocate for being pro-choice with an understanding of life inside the womb?
There are consequences for what we do with our body and how we handle relationships and intimacy.
Disposable relationships and one night stands will leave you empty, in the end.
Hedonism is not the answer.
Tatiana McKinney has balanced nothing.

(Report Comment)
Howard Mitchell May 15, 2009 | 3:26 p.m.

Excuse me Ray, but it seems as if you have proven that you indeed don't know much at all. Have you been living inside a box for the last ten years. People are gonna have sex regardless. It is human nature. By handing out condoms one is not encouraging sex (which I doubt needs MUCH encouragement to be initiated in the first place), but yet trying to open others eyes to the world of SAFE sex. People like you are the reason kids go and practice unsafe sex because they are afraid of the backlash they may receive which puts them in a place where they feel they can't talk about it. Lack of communication on the manner is directly related to ignorance upon the subject (ask the Bush administration). And it unequivocally seems to me, Ray, that you are indeed another vessel of ignorance in this society. And I'm pretty sure you're not a saint yourself nor a virgin so stop the judgments, thy holiness... You know nothing about this beautiful woman, she is just trying to help make this world better in her own way. Key word being, she is TRYING, which thereby implies that she is doing SOMETHING in this world to try improve it which in itself is something we need more of from people her age. P.S. And I'm sure she has BALANCED more throughout her COLLEGE career than you could have ever hoped to throughout your WHOLE life. Have a good and blessed day Sir!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 16, 2009 | 2:29 p.m.

Howie baby:
Attitude is everything.
First off, I disagree with: ("People like you are the reason kids go and practice unsafe sex because they are afraid of the backlash they may receive which puts them in a place where they feel they can't talk about it. Lack of communication on the manner is directly related to ignorance upon the subject...And it unequivocally seems to me, Ray, that you are indeed another vessel of ignorance in this society.")
It's people like you that think parental responsiveness means parental permissiveness.
I might be the most out of balanced person you may ever get to know, but unless one's family values are instilled in their young with an outside culture, public school, campus life and media which supports the values, morals and ethics of that core family, I fear for an inconsistency in the messages we are sending our young "adults" and what they may gravitate to.
I also did not post that her handing out 500 condoms encourages sex, I said her handing out 500 condoms encourages promiscuity. There's a difference.
An endless supply of campus provided disposable condoms equals the encouragement of disposable relationships.
Show me where health education, relationship attitudes and self-esteem issues are being promoted. All I read in this article is that condoms and abortion make for one heck of a sex life.

(Report Comment)
Howard Mitchell May 16, 2009 | 9:07 p.m.

Of course one's parent shouldn't promote sex, but all I'm saying is that kids have a mind of their own and all the effort in the world won't necessarily stop them from doing some of the things they do. Look at some of the real life scenarios. There are preachers whose kids are very promiscuous, as are a lot of other kids who do things that aren't exactly along the lines of what their parents tried to teach them. There is nothing wrong with informing people on the manner. Tell your kids about the sexual dangers out there. This isn't a retraction of your parental authority, but yet an extension of valuable knowledge that one should know if there is any possibility of participating in some of these activities. Being open about the sexual dangers out there can actually be much more effective than the policy of silence, I think we can both agree upon that. And if your kid does indeed go against your teachings, you would surely want them to be comfortable enough with you to tell you what they did and not keep it bottled up from you out of fear. Through some of my studies, in this case, psychology, I have seen actual scientific evidence that it is human nature to want to dwell into things you were always told not to do, and this is especially prevalent when there is no solid communication or reason upon the request/command. Thereby, it is undoubtedly more effective to not only instill good values about sex into your kids, but also communicate the reasoning and rational behind them. Arbitrary guidelines, such as saying, "Don't have sex because I said so." (which is just an example of one the most arbitrary fashions of trying to convey your point) without sufficient reasoning or informative value aren't effective. At the most basic of levels, humans are somewhat rebellious, and this rebellious nature is only increased with rules that are not fully understood as to "why you shouldn't." What good parent wouldn't want their kid to wait till they are ready mentally and physically to have sexual relations??? As I get older and marry that special woman and have kids with her, I would try my best to instill good values in them, but there is no way I would let my babies go out into this world without a knowledge and substantial grasp of the dangers of not only sex, but life. The word parent, in fact, is derived from the word parentem whose verbal usage is parere meaning to "bring forth, give birth to, produce." Now, this has polymorphic meaning/interpretation. It can be viewed from a physical or a mental vantage point. Of course, physically it is self explanatory, but mentally it can mean to bring forth, produce, or give birth to good "values" AND "knowledge". This is the "COMPLETE" parent, one that not only instills good values in their kids but also informs their child about the world around them, and is indeed what I think a parent should be; not one that "gives birth" to inconstancy and promiscuity...

(Report Comment)
Tatiana Mckinney May 17, 2009 | 7:28 p.m.

Well Ray, Thank you for the negative feedback. I don't believe that the work I did promotes promiscuity, but I believe the work I did informs young adults about having a choice and getting the resources to make informed decisions. I am not pro-abortion or pro-promiscuity, I am indeed pro-information and I am very religious and believe that young adults should have the resources and information to make decisions about what they want to do in life. I think that you don't know me as a person,and that's okay, i've been doing this work for a long time and things that you say just make me love the work I do more. What they didn't say in the article is that with the 500 condoms I passed out, I also held a forum about being informed and not feeling pressure to have sex. What they didn't include in this article is that i've done a many conferences and meetings about what I can do to prevent young adults from having abortions, but being able to know about their body and make the decisions that's best for them. I love being christian and pro-choice because I feel like I am constantly ridiculed by people like you, who only have a one tract mind. I have been able to make a difference in many lives by showing young adults that you don't have to have sex to be cool, but you should be informed to not feel the pressure and make the decision that's best for you. What you don't know is I am a VIRGIN that's promoting sex education. I went through ab-only education, and it does not work. Only few children come out of the ab-only education virgins, and that's because they have had outside sources teaching them what is great. I believe that you have your own opinions and I respect you for giving me your feedback, but don't discredit my entire life because you don't agree with my decisions i've made. That's hypocritical and down-right ignorant of you.

Have a great day and thanks for taking the time to give me a great smile to tell me i'm doing something right. They say if you have enemies, you're doing something correct!


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 17, 2009 | 9:13 p.m.

If ignorance is based on one's unawareness I am glad my ignorance prodded you to come forward and tell some more of your story.
My comments were based on the article written and my reaction to it.
Initially I did not see the headline of you balancing your religious and political views indicated in the content of the story. The way the story read, to me, seemed more of a reconciliation or adjusting of your upbringing of "strict fundamentalist unquestioning Christian" matriarchs and a secular progressive's political agenda to encourage women to do whatever they choose, bar the consequences.
Reading more about your approach to this dilemma I can see how you have weaved these two extreme approaches in your activities.
(Neither extreme is healthy, practical or inclusive.)
While it's nice to get your photograph in the paper, IMHO, your personal response does more of a homage and service to your accomplishments than Claire Hanan's report could ever do.
Not everyone will agree with your stance, however dialogue can help soften appearances.
I wish you luck and success in your future endeavors.

(Report Comment)
Tatiana Mckinney May 17, 2009 | 9:58 p.m.

Thank you!

(Report Comment)
Tatiana Mckinney May 17, 2009 | 10:06 p.m.

I worked for Faith ALoud, It was my first internship. It was called Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice- but now it is referred to Faith Aloud. Rev. Rebecca Turner is a good friend!

Just thought you should know, they were what got me interested in reproductive justice and balancing that with my christian beliefs


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 17, 2009 | 10:45 p.m.

("Just thought you should know, they were what got me interested in reproductive justice and balancing that with my christian beliefs")
Makes sense, now.
(I've been getting their newsletter for the last two years.)
I'm really not as stupid as I post.
Take care.

(Report Comment)
student student May 20, 2009 | 10:10 a.m.

How does a religious person deal with the life/death abortion question?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 20, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

One approach:

Nonviolent Choice Directory

...because there are, and can be,
better ways than abortion...

Pro Every Life, Pro Woman, Pro Reproductive Justice for All:

Nonviolent choice: The ability to exercise freedom of conscience in making voluntary, nonabortion, abortion-reducing sexual and reproductive decisions. This freedom depends on one's fully informed consent regarding different options, their benefits, and their drawbacks. It depends just as much on the social power to carry out one's values and preferences.

Nonviolent choice includes, among other possibilities:

--Whether, when, how, and with whom (among consenting adults) to have sex. Philosophical and religious/spiritual views of sexual ethics for consenting adults are too numerous and divergent for state power to favor and mandate any particular one of them without treading on vital liberties of conscience, expression, association, religion, and privacy.

--Whether to prevent conception or seek it out. While we recognize the goodness of biological and social parenthood, we recognize equally the goodness of other-than-parental life courses, and the right of individuals to pursue these as desired.

--Which specific pregnancy prevention method(s) to adopt or not adopt. We are cognizant here of the need for the utmost safeguards against coercive population control, unethical pharmaceutical experimentation, and sterilization abuse.

These are all dangers, and dangers with long histories -- to the poor, the colonized, people of color/ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities. At the same time, we name as unjust the coercive denial of access to the prevention method(s) of one's own choosing.

--Whether, in the event of a crisis pregnancy, to pursue parenting, adoption, guardianship, or some other safe care arrangement.

(Report Comment)
student student May 21, 2009 | 10:28 a.m.

Is the coercion in not finding an abortion alternative, not allowing the abortion, or some other idea I missed?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 21, 2009 | 2:47 p.m.

@student student:
For the article I referred you to I think it fits with the concept of full and complete freedom of choice.
IMHO, this would be an unrestrictive, educated choice with all available options at the woman's disposal. Idealistic yes, something to strive for.
Practically, I think our law makers need to have a legal definition regarding "coercion" as it pertains to abortion. This is one attempt...
The problem I see with the writing of laws pertaining to abortion is that any proposed laws "red flag" some pro-choice leaders and the proposed law is pulled apart and eventually goes no where. (Along with progress.)
I would suggest that these "pro-choicers" work with some "pro-lifers" and find some common ground as to what will work best.
(Just my 2cents worth. Hope it sheds some light on the subject.)

(Report Comment)
student student May 22, 2009 | 10:02 a.m.

I missed what IMHO is.

Does common ground need to ask the prenatal life/death question?

(Report Comment)

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