Sex Education Advocate
By Sophie M. Clark
Photo by Ron Coleman, C4 Photography
Michaela Atkins was taking a family planning class in high school when she realized her passion for sex education. Now a junior at University of Nebraska at Omaha, Atkins has already made leaps and bounds into community advocacy.
“I absolutely love advocacy work,” Atkins says. “There is nothing more rewarding than hearing directly from young people and creating a tangible outcome from what they need.”
Atkins became involved with the Women’s Fund through two recent research-based internships. She’s now a Youth-led Participatory Action Researcher and Youth Mobilizer.
Atkins also received a Young Black & Influential Omaha Award in 2021 for her work in the community surrounding sexual health. She credits two women with helping her achieve success: her mother, Hope Atkins, and Lisa Schulze, Education and Training Manager for the Women’s Fund.
“My mom is the strongest woman I know,” she says. “I get my work ethic from her—she taught me about the importance of connections and how to be consistent and dependable.”
After she graduates with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Women and Gender Studies, and with minors in LGBTQIA+/Sexuality and Public Health, Atkins plans to attend graduate school. Her ultimate goal is to work as a sex ed teacher.
“There’s not enough information readily available or accessible regarding sexual health—especially in communities of color,” she says. “It’s so important to make sure young people know that it’s their right to have that information.”
Looking back, she sees her hard work in school paying off—especially with her dad’s influence. “My dad is a military man, so we grew up with those characteristics,” Atkins says. “School was always my number one priority.”
But it wasn’t always easy. There were times in high school and college when the pressure to succeed was overwhelming, and Atkins felt like giving up.
“My mom would sit with me and just let me cry,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I had to remember to believe in myself above everything else.”
If she could tell that younger Michaela anything, she’d tell her not to diminish any of her accomplishments or accolades along the way—that every step would eventually lead her to where she is today.
“I can go back to the essays I wrote in high school and see what I put down in pen has come into fruition,” Atkins says. “I’m going to keep amplifying youth voices any way I can.”