Monday, October 26, 2009

Remarks Given by Executive Director, Forrest Alton, at the HIV/AIDS Community Discussion

"Good evening, my name is Forrest Alton and I am the Executive Director at the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. I am increasingly concerned about high rates of HIV and unintended pregnancy in our state, especially among young people. For too long prevention strategies in our state and across the nation have been limited and frankly inadequate, in large part because of a view from leadership and decision makers that issues such as HIV and unintended pregnancy are moral issues.

Some of my colleagues would suggest to you that we RE-frame these issues as public health issues – which they are. Tonight, I ask us all including the White House to go one step further and begin thinking about and talking about HIV and unintended pregnancy as urgent social issues. Urgent social issues don’t bring a blind eye, they bring focus and attention; urgent social issues don’t bring arguments, they bring action; urgent social issues don’t bring partisan politics they bring solutions. Moreover, urgent social issues require solutions that are sustainable for the long term.

I certainly commend the Obama administration for hosting this meeting and listening the concerns of Columbia, SC. And, I certainly encourage the Administration to fully support the ideas and suggestions offered by my friends and colleagues this evening – things like fully funding comprehensive sex education for all young people; eliminating ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs; increasing access to condoms and contraception; targeting interventions for high priority youth; conducting outreach on college campuses, etc.

I would, however, add one thought to this dialogue and that is to ensure that the Administration is deliberate about how programs are created and where they are located so that we can ensure that the progress we make on these critical issues over the next eight years – yes, eight, not four – will not be undone by future Administrations.

Thank you for your time.”

All the best,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Bible Belt and Babies

The news report was one to turn your head. “U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth.” In so many ways that just doesn’t make sense! Everything inside us says that the more religious states should have a lower rate of teen births. After all, other studies have shown that religious participation serves as a deterrent to sexual activity. So what is going on here?

I was one of those kids who grew up in the Bible Belt, participating in “religious activities!” In my tiny little town there wasn’t a lot going on, so church was the center of activity for many of us. We had a wonderful youth choir, we went on retreat and camps, in general had a great time together.

A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend from those years, and we were discussing what our church had taught us about sex. Both of us agreed that the message had been very clear. “If you have sex, at the very moment of penetration, the ground will open up and you will plunge into the center of hell.” There was no mistaking the message. It was there!

But neither of us could ever remember any conversation about sex.


The message was there. It was hanging in the air and we took it in with every breath. We were at church for Sunday School, worship, Sunday Night church, Training Union (now you know I grew up Baptist!) choir, Wednesday night activities, Youth Group. We were there after school many days, just to hang out. We were there all the time, but we never ever talked about sex.

Which may very well explain the problem. Churches aren’t talking about sex, or contraceptives, or sexuality, or relationships. The message is “out there;” it’s just never verbalized. And in that strange world of the teenage brain, the message goes something like this:

I know I shouldn’t have sex. So there is no need to think about contraceptives, because if I bought a condom, or took the pill, then that would mean I was planning to have sex, which makes that premeditated sin. But if Friday night when our parents are out of town and we have a few beers and “just get carried away,” then that isn’t as bad.

No it doesn’t make logical sense, but then we are talking about romance and hormones and the teenage brain—not a “logical combination.” (But then, often times it isn’t a logical combination with adult brains either!) That is why we must be talking with our teens about sex. It is a task for parents, for schools, for caring adults, and yes, for churches. Our teens need and want some direction, some idea of how to maneuver through these turbulent years. They want to know about sex, but even more about relationships and values. And is there anywhere better for that conversation than our churches, temples and mosques?

The Campaign has resources—both written and personal—to help you with the conversations! During this month, and every month, let’s talk with our youth about what is important. It is a message that is too important just to let “hang in the air.”

by: Rev. Don Flowers, Immediate Past Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
Contact Don:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Their Own Words

Recently, a colleague returned from a conference with a DVD produced by MTV called Think HIV: This is Me, that shows teens and young adults from across the country talking openly about their experience with HIV. Most of the youth are HIV positive and all of the video clips are self-recorded, which adds a rawness to their stories about living with HIV that is both compelling and painful to watch.

Young people from all backgrounds – suburban, urban, white, Latino, African-American, male and female- talk openly about the impact of being HIV positive. Youth filmed themselves in their rooms, in clinics, getting their test results, fighting with partners, and disclosing their status. One of the women talks about the judgment and whispers she faced in school after peers learned of her HIV status, while another candidly shares about not having disclosed her status to a partner. By featuring all types of people living with HIV, the video challenges stereotypes about who gets HIV.

While viewing the video, I was struck by how rarely real young people have the opportunity to talk about the important things in their lives. Even with the ubiquity of “reality” television, it is unusual to let young people, especially young women, be frank and honest about what happens in their lives. Given the glamorized, superficial, and sexualized way youth typically are portrayed in the media, it was refreshing to see real people telling real stories about things that matter. Talking about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy is not easy. But, videos like this one show that the first step is just giving young people the means to tell their story in their own words.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
contact Shannon: