As a 15-year-old struggling with painful and irregular periods that turned out to be endometriosis, Ileri Jaiyeoba couldn’t imagine going through her period without the resources and support she had. After volunteering at homeless shelters and meeting women and girls who didn’t have access to the supplies they needed, she started Code Red—a non-profit dedicated to providing menstrual hygiene products to those in need.
The non-profit has since distributed more than 8,000 packages of menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in need. Now a rising NYU sophomore studying international relations and affairs, Ileri has made it her mission to advocate for women, girls and menstrual hygiene rights.
College: New York University
Majors: Public Policy and International Relations
Expected Graduation: Spring 2020
Why is menstrual hygiene such an important issue to you, and how is your nonprofit organization, Code Red, making an impact?
At a young age, I realized that I was one of the 136 million women in the world living with endometriosis, which causes painful and irregular periods. I became aware about the importance of menstrual hygiene and realized how privileged I was to have access to resources that aided my basic needs—and this is why I decided to start Code Red. I somehow could not bear the thought that there was someone out there starting their period who did not have the resources to take care of themselves. I also couldn't stand the fact that millions of women were victims of the pink tax.
This is why Code Red gives menstrual product donations to those in need, by distributing packages to homeless and refugee centers. This is why Code Red also has a program that works to change policy when it comes to freeing menstrual products at universities nationwide and changing state policies to end the luxury tax on products. It is our mission to advocate, educate, and impact.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a college student and running Code Red?
So far, my biggest struggle has been juggling the many things I have on my plate— school, internships, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and Code Red. The challenge has been figuring out how to go about things. However, because most of the activities I do revolve around my passion for justice and equality, I do not mind being busy because I am focused on my visions and passion for the work I do. Though supervising the Code Red programs and recruiting volunteers for sanitary drives requires a lot of work, I really enjoy the work I do.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
My greatest achievement to date is being able to continue to work on Code Red despite all the challenges I have faced. Working on Code Red taught me so much about what I value and what I am passionate about. Learning my values allowed me to figure out what I wanted to study in college and what internships I wanted to pursue. Since learning that I have a passion for justice and equality, I know that I want to dedicate my life to uplifting women and people of color—and I’m doing that by being devoted to Code Red. I am extremely proud that Code Red has distributed over 8,000 packages to those in need, worked toward policy initiatives that end the luxury tax on period products, and has worked to make menstrual products free at universities and residence halls nationwide.
What’s something you wish you knew when you founded your organization at age 15?
When I first started Code Red, I was really excited to get things moving right away and had no idea about how long the process was going to take. Because of my lack of patience, I handled too much at once, which made it very hard to achieve goals. I wanted things done so fast that I ignored the importance of focusing on the tiny details and main needs of my project. If I could go back and give myself advice, I would tell myself to slow down and focus on one task at a time. Another thing I would tell myself is to persevere, especially because taking on a project that was extremely taboo was not easy at all; at the time, there was little or no conversations about menstrual hygiene or no sign of any organization that was doing what I was doing. I had to research and work really hard to generate ideas that I could put to action to make a positive impact. This process taught me so much about perseverance, which I needed to end up where I am today.
What advice do you have for young women with ambitions to make a positive impact in their communities?
When you are determined to do something, learning everything about the issue is crucial. Find accurate information online about it, and if you don't have a computer, read a book about it. Constantly find more information about the thing you are ambitious about, including opportunities that align with what you are passionate about. This allows for you to be proactive and also stay socially conscious about what you are going into or what issue you are exploring.
When you want to make a difference in your community, you have to research exactly what is happening and the deep root of why it happening. You cannot go into the job without being aware, which is why research is so important. Education allows for one to remain aware and socially conscious about society and researching is a great way to be proactive when you do not know where or how to start.
My second piece of advice is to just be yourself, and I know this may sound cliché, but in all that you do, it is important to find your strengths and use them to the best of your ability.
How has mentorship played a role in your life—either learning from a mentor or being a mentor to someone else?
I am extremely grateful for the many mentors I have had in my life, especially because of the role they have played in helping me with Code Red and teaching about leadership. A year ago I was paired up with Pamela Bell, the creator of Prinkshop! We worked together to create designs for Code Red, and I became really inspired by her work. It was an amazing learning experience and opportunity.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote?
I have so many favorite quotes, but my favorite quote at the moment is by Sara Ahmed: “Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”
What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
I aspire to become a diplomat or judge in the future and dedicate my life to the advancement of women and people of color. I want to live my life advocating for fair policy on behalf of others and uplift communities who have for too long been pushed aside and forgotten when it comes to policy.
After I graduate, I want to spend much of my time traveling and working as an advocate. I want to travel around Africa and South America and learn about the cultures and languages of the places I visit. I hope to immerse myself in different cultures and also involve myself in creative activities. I know that traveling will broaden my perspectives, and I know that advocating will allow for me to do the work I care about before I go to law school and continue to further my education.
There are also things that I am doing right now in college that I hope to continue, which is working on Code Red, working as an advocate for girls who have been involved in the juvenile system, and selling my own handmade home décor that is inspired by the Afro-diaspora.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
I perceive myself as strong-willed because I am not afraid to face the obstacles along the way when pursuing my goals. I see myself as passionate because I remain devoted to the issues I care about and the people I surround myself with. I also see myself as industrious and creative because my mind is always thinking about how to bring art and creativity to all the things I work hard to make. Lastly, I would describe myself as sincere because I am not afraid to be vulnerable and honest in front of others.