The importance of having a space for young women of color to inquire about sexuality and mental health is often a challenge – and nearly non-existent in some cases. For Tiffany Lloyd, this is among the reasons for creating the online big sister “Layla’s Got You.”
The multigenerational chatbot is a space for women of color who are seeking answers to personal questions and focuses on the premise of being a community made for women, by women. Layla embodies the essence of a trusted and knowledgeable friend.
Since its inception four years ago, Laya’s Got You has expanded to an on- and offline sisterhood, offering a wealth of knowledge on Black women’s concerns. Yet, the organization acknowledges it has a long way to go in order to continue making strides in young Black women’s lives.
“We love working with the local young women and helping them to get on the pathway that they think is important and will lead to the future that they envision for themselves,” said Lloyd, director of women’s health and empowerment at the Allyn Family Foundation and campaign manager of Layla’s Got You.
In recent years, concerns about Black women’s reproductive and mental health, as well as resource accessibility, have grown.
For many women, speaking about personal issues – including sexuality, reproductive health, relationships and finding a safe community – can be a challenge.
“What we found is that women didn’t feel like they had spaces to convene where they could come together with people that they felt were like them or where they could talk about what the issues were,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd, a longtime advocate of Black women’s reproductive health and well-being, understands that for many young Black women, speaking or even inquiring about sex and relationships is often taboo.
Prior to the inception of Layla’s Got You, Lloyd led conversations and sought ways to address the concerns among Black women. In her former role at Family Planning of Syracuse, Lloyd, regarding herself as the “local sex-ed lady,” visited more than a dozen schools in the county to discuss sexual and hygienic care with young women.
The Allyn Family Foundation sought out Lloyd during their initiative focused on childhood developmental milestones from birth to age five. However, leadership within the organization realized in order to provide adequate care to babies, healthcare facilities would have to reach women well before pregnancy.
Lloyd refers to the creation phase of Layla’s Got You as a “blank slate” that required months of research through community forums to hear from real women about their experiences and what they needed.
She embarked on a “tour of conversations,” visiting local colleges and schools to speak with students and young women.
“Young women find it easier to speak to someone online rather than come to an office or going to their mom or their aunt or somebody within their family,” Lloyd said.
During her research phase, Lloyd discovered three important factors pertaining to the goal of reaching Black women: Timeliness, accessibility and availability. The information has to come from a reputable and trusted source. Most importantly, it has to be culturally tailored, including use of common and explicit language, as well as popular song lyrics.
“You have to get them in the way that they communicate and relate with each other,” Lloyd said.
Through a collaborative effort with the Allyn Family Foundation, the idea of an online platform was formalized.
The digital chatbot features automated answers sourced from a range of community concerns and frequently asked questions.
“We knew that we wanted to create some sort of engagement that would get young people through their cell phones and devices,” Lloyd said.
Similar to the previous community-centered advocacy Lloyd was doing, she continued to include women’s voices to ideate and find the perfect name for the chatbot.
“They just pared the list down, and Layla was the last name standing. And, so, that’s what we named it,” Lloyd said. “It’s easy to say, and it’s a very common name. So, it feels relatable, like she’s your homegirl, she’s your friend. I like that.”
After a few years of being under the radar, Layla’s Got You experienced a major turning point when the group hosted its first retreat in March 2022 and another in August, Lloyd said. The retreats were all-expenses-paid experiences for participants, who came in from Rochester and Syracuse.
The retreats featured activities such as mental health sessions, conversations about identity, social media presence, make-up lessons and candle-making. Organizers also held discussions with local professionals and facilitated conversations and lessons on entrepreneurship and talent.
“The retreat was our launching point because young women came into the space all at once, hearts and minds on one accord, the way that they were willing to unzip and share and connect and build community with the girls they didn’t even know,” Lloyd said. “Some of the girls were from Rochester, some of the girls from Syracuse. It was just beautiful.”
The behind-the-scenes work to make the retreat happen, including sending emails and follow-ups, booking hotels and handling the logistics, was collectively executed by three Layla’s Got You ambassaors, as well as guidance from Lloyd and her colleague.
Since both retreats, “ambassadors” have become a large part of the program. Many of Layla’s Got You members are permitted to lead planning and creative aspects related to videography, social media and community engagement.
“Any young woman can come be an ambassador. You don’t have to be a college graduate or a high school graduate,” Lloyd said. “All you have to do is, in your heart, want to come be a part of making social change for other Black women in Syracuse.”
Layla’s Got You has gone on to create more opportunities for Black women, including the ambassadors program, an online web series, retreats, social events, employment and professional development opportunities. The group has also held partnered leadership and networking events with the Divine Nine, Black greek-letter organizations.
Although Layla’s Got You is designed for its home-based residents, its impact is reaching communities beyond the Central New York region. But its mission is to continue serving the women of Syracuse.
“We believe that Syracuse has its share of things going on for Black women, and it’s enough that we have a fight to fight for a while,” Lloyd said.
Editor’s note: A previous version stated the group welcomed participants from Manchester for their retreat last year. This was incorrect, the information has recently been updated and corrected.