HIV and the Nation’s Capitol

2 07 2012


For a few years, I worked at a local teen program in Washington, DC. And while I spent a lot of time there focusing on writing and design intangibles in a magazine workshop, I also had the privilege of participating and facilitating other workshops as well.

One of those workshops, entitled Think Twice, was designed to promote safe sex awareness and mature/important conversations around the sexually transmitted infections and viruses effecting the teens in their community.

It was amazing how much I learned from them while they were learning from me. And one such topic in which this occurred was around the scariness and prevalence of HIV in their neighborhoods.

[Side note: If you’re not aware, at least 1 in 20 residents in DC is HIV positive, a fact that gives the city the highest infection rate in the country.]

Now, I was a certified STI counselor speaking with them on these topics, but I had never actually experienced dealing with a loved one or a friend who was infected by the HIV virus. From my perspective, it was one of the scariest things in the world.

However, many of the teens not only knew someone who was infected with HIV, they knew several people who had progressed to the AIDS stage of the virus. And yet, most of them were not scared of contracting the virus.

I was blown away. How could something so closely affect you and you not be scared of it? Was it because they didn’t understand the severity of it, I wondered. Was it because they still believed that it was a gay disease? What was it that didn’t have them shaking in their britches like me?

And then, as we continued talking about HIV, I realized what it was – HIV had become normalized for them. It was like speaking to a bunch of gang members about how they should prevent violence in their neighborhood. These kids didn’t think about prevention; they just knew that it happened (a lot) and they hoped they wouldn’t find themselves a part of the statistic.

That summer I spent having honest and open conversations with those teenagers recently came to my mind when I read the Washington Post’s article on the newly released statistics for HIV infection rates in DC. In it, they said:

The HIV infection rate for heterosexual African American women in the District’s poorest neighborhoods nearly doubled in two years, from 6.3 percent to 12.1 percent, according to a study released Wednesday by the D.C. Department of Health. The large increase reflects wider testing of people who were previously unaware of their status and possibly a still-rising rate of new infections in that high-risk group, officials said.

Pretty disheartening news, but mostly because it tells me that we’re still not getting to the heart of prevention issues in this community. We’re still finding that too many poor Black women are being infected at alarming rates. We’re still learning that even with these numbers, many people infected do not know their status. And I bet if I spoke with a bunch of random teenagers now, the conversation would start off the same. “It’s not scary. It just is what it is,” they’d probably say.

And I’d want to explain to them that what they’re missing is that it doesn’t have to be what it is now.

DC is to be commended for their increased commitment to testing in the city. But testing without frank conversation and efforts towards enacting real preventative measures is not working. It sounds great to say that the numbers have increased so dramatically because more people are getting tested and are now aware of their status. It’s a lot harder to admit that they’re increasing because more people are becoming infected, despite the massive efforts the city has tried to implement to stop it.


At What Point Do We Begin to Understand that Violence ONLY Begets More Violence?

13 06 2012

“Our children learn to act and do things as we teach them to in the home.” Photo:

By now, we’ve all heard the reports about Atlanta Megachurch Pastor Creflo Dollar beating his daughter with a shoe and choking her. I should probably say alleged reports, but since the police report corroborates that story – it’s the one I’m going with for now. You’ve also probably seen how once again, this incident has shown the divide between the Black community and how we respond to domestic violence. To wit, The Crunk Feminist Collective recently wrote:

What would it mean for us to recognize that when we refuse to believe the testimony of other Black women and girls, it makes our own witness “for the Lord,” before the law, and before anyone else we need to believe us less credible?

Yet, I witnessed Black women coming out in full support of the “man of God” in droves because…

“We weren’t there.”

“We don’t know what happened in that house…”

“We don’t know what she did or said to provoke him…”

[What is this? Chris Brown and RiRi 2.0? (Let me leave that alone.)]

And while many fruitful discussions have come about concerning what our collective reactions mean for the treatment of Black women, I’d like to take a different approach all together and discuss what continued violence in the home does to the children that will eventually grow up to be adults in our neighborhoods.

While discussing the recent events with different people in my life over the past couple days, from besties over email to my parents over the phone, one idea kept coming back to me – almost screaming to be written: When are we going to understand that when we reinforce ideas with violence in the home, we make it easier for our children to feel like they should reinforce ideas with violence outside of the home?

Some of you are probably looking at your screen as if I’m crazy right now, but stop for a second before you get defensive and try to hit me with responses like, “until you’ve raised a teenager, you won’t understand.” I will address that point first, before I go further. No, I do not have kids right now. I am a proud auntie (teetee or tia, to be exact) and godmother (she calls me Nanny), but there are no kids that permanently reside in my home.

I have however been a teenager and obviously grew up around teenagers, and one thing I learned from that experience is that my parents, in all their wisdom to punish creatively and not by their fists or shoes, provided me with a much greater understanding of why what I did was wrong than beating me ever could.

Did we get into arguments? Of course. That’s what happens when young adults and adults begin to live under the same roof. Did I always think they were fair? Of course not – no teenager does. But I never feared them. I didn’t have to fear them, because I respected them, and that respect caused me to not want to ever disappoint them with my actions or words.

But many of our children do fear their parents. They’re growing up, learning by practice, that the best way to get your point across to someone is to raise your hand. How can we then expect them not to carry those same practices into their lives outside of the home? Do we not see the possible correlation to the violence in our homes and the violence in our neighborhoods? For if it’s true (and it is) that a large number of children who see abuse in their home will either abuse or accept abuse in their homes as adults, why would we assume that same acceptance and repetition would not manifest itself in other areas of their lives?

Let’s be clear – our children learn to act and do things as we teach them to in the home. If we know that to be true, at what point do we collectively say enough is enough? My parents did it. They decided that beating their children into submission was not the route they wanted to take. And I thank them for that every day; not just because my butt was never black and blue, but because they gave me the opportunity to learn by example and not through intimidation. I think if more people could say the same thing, we might see a dramatic change in the thought process of many folks who believe laying hands on someone is their first and sometimes only option to be heard.

And even if a dramatic change doesn’t happen in the actions of our community, at least there might be less people trying to come up with justifications for a man putting his hands around his child’s neck. That might just be enough change for me for the moment.

(Same-Sex) Marriage and the President of the United States

16 05 2012

Photo credit: Pete Souza/White House, via Reuters

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married… I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient. I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs… The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”

I’m glad he finally took a stand on this issue.

Regardless of how you feel about what he said, one thing was clear – on Wednesday, May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first sitting president to say that he believes that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. It was long-winded and had a lot of explanations with it, but he said it. And he didn’t back down about it.

His team later sent out an even more succinct response to all the people who are on the President’s email distribution list.

“Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry… What I’ve come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens… So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.”

Legally, does it mean anything? Nope. Did Vice-President Biden most likely speed up the statement? Yeah. But the fact remains that he said it. And I completely agree.

Look, I understand that this is a controversial issue and something that both sides feel very strongly about. But since the topic has come up in discussions amongst my friends and family over the past few years, I’ve always asserted the same belief – that finding love with someone to the point that you both want to spend the rest of your lives together is in itself a miracle. Not everyone is blessed to have that happen to them. Not everyone can say they found their soul mate. So who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to tell you that you can’t honor your miracle?

I know not everyone shares that belief. I have friends and family members who I love and trust that definitely don’t share that belief, but it seems that there is an increasing rate of people who do share my beliefs, whether they are in the Black community, the youth community, or the general population.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center discusses this change in American opinion:

Since 2004, there has been a broad-based decline in opposition – including strong opposition –to gay marriage. In 2004, Americans younger than 30 were divided (48% opposed, 45% favored). Today, young people favor gay marriage by more than two-to-one (65% to 30%). Opposition has declined by the same percentage – 18 points – among those 65 and older… [and] Since 2008, the proportion of African Americans favoring gay marriage has increased from 26% to 39%, while opposition has fallen from 63% to 49%.

All that to say, as much as we want to make this a controversial and political issue, maybe it’s becoming more of a personal one. And maybe because it’s becoming more of a personal one, that’s why his statement wasn’t as bold as you might think. Don’t get me wrong – he took a risk, but if those reports by Pew are right, more people in this country believe the same thing than don’t. And that runs contrary to the typical political discussions held about certain demographics of the country.

You know those discussions because they came flaring up again. As soon as reports came out about the President’s interview with Robin Roberts, talking heads began to discuss what this would mean for him in an election year. Would the Black community stand by him, they asked. Would he lose support in those all important swing states, they wondered. How would independents feel about the President taking such a liberal and “far-left leaning” stand? They went on and on and yet, supporting his belief or not – I don’t know anyone who was planning to vote for Pres. Obama who has changed their mind. You know what has happened?

In a day’s time, he raised $90 million. My Facebook account was littered with intelligent and intellectual debates. And hopefully, parents and children across the country have engaged in discussions about equality and rights for all. Those things are personal. And really, so is this issue. It’s personal when you talk about someone’s love for another person. And it’s personal when you try to say they can’t express that love like anyone else in this country.

Teen Expressions 2

8 10 2008

Well, it’s the day after the debate from last night, but I never gave you guys the top 5 good goods from the teens concerning the Biden/Palin debate… and trust me, you want these. Will try and give you their thoughts from this one in a more timely fashion next time (if they’re classics, of course lol… but their my teens, so I’m sure they will be lol).

Anyway, in the last installment of this, I promised you guys I would come with more quotables and come with more quotables is what I did:

1. “I thought it was funny how they shook each other’s hands and were smiling and talking at the end. I bet they weren’t saying anything at all!” other teen: “Yeah, they were probably like, bla bla blah. uh huh… bla bla blah”

2. “I kept laughing at how Joe Biden kept doing this crazy smile whenever Sarah Palin said something dumb or didnt answer a question. You just know he wanted to look in the camera and scream to America, ‘Dont you get it!? She’s dumb!'”

3. After we briefly talked about the SNL skits…”Do you think it’s possible to switch Tina Fey with Sarah Palin? You think the Republicans would notice?”

4. “So, neither of them believes in gay marriage, but they both believe in EQUAL benefits???? I dont get it.”

5. After I explained the Ultimate Bridge to nowhere comment that Biden made: “Aha aha ha, she got pwned!!!” other teen: “Yeah, on national TV!” * for those, who don’t know, pwned is a facebook reference which is equivalent to saying to someone “you got served!”

Hope you enjoyed!!!! On an extra special side note, I am so proud of my kids. Most of them came into the workshop not caring AT ALL about politics, and now… oh boy! they can’t WAIT to come in there and talk about whats going on, from the Bail out to the debates to everything! And they have questions about everything… trust me!…

Teen Expressions

17 09 2008

For those, who dont know me, let me give you a brief history to catch you up to my point of this post. During my last year of and for about a year after graduate school, I worked at a teen program, doing many different workshops with boys and girls, ages 14 to 18. One of these workshops was a magazine workshop where the teens and I created, wrote, edited and designed a 42 page magazine, a 22 page magazine, and two 24 page magazines.

This semester marks the first time that I will be working with the teens in a consulting position, (since I have another job now), and since it’s a presidential campaign year and I’m a politics junkie… we’re doing a political magazine!!!! Woop! Woop!

It seems like it’s going to be very interesting already, seeing as though the premise of this workshop is not only to have them express themselves through writing, photography, and design, but to help them become more aware of the political process in America.

On my old blog, Destined 2 BE, there would be times when I would do posts featuring the ramblings of the teens. Well this post will be a little more focused, but I’m thinking of doing a series of posts from the teens about their ideas of government and politics.

Already, I’ve been hit with these gems:

In speaking about Sarah Palin: “Wait, who’s that? You mean the lady who’s daughter is pregnant, which is kinda funny since she doesnt believe in sex education for teenagers??? That dumb lady?”

After watching the SNL skit of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton: “What’s the Bush Doctrine and why doesn’t she know about it?” And after I explained what the Bush Doctrine was… “Oh man, she’s an idiot. Almost as dumb as my history teacher!”

When I asked them if they knew the current positions each candidate held: “oooh I know, Barack Obama is the senator of Illinois… I’m voting for him!” But you’re only 15, I pointed out. “Well, you know I’m voting for him in my mind, then.”

When I was informing everyone of the possible articles they could write on… ME: “One of the articles will be about what each party does to cater to the Black and Latino vote.” One of the girls: “um, that’s easy. Nothing.” One of the boys: “Wrong, didnt you see Daddy Yankee perform at the Republican Convention?” he was joking… not about Daddy Yankee performing (that really happened), about it working.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing how their knowledge grows… and hopefully provide you all with more quotable in the near future.