Chicago Teens Line Up for HIV Tests, Learn About Taking Responsibility for their Health
CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – In early January, the non-profit Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization, Inc. (MAGIC) and the National Teen Test Day Foundation made history as they launched the first-ever teen test day–an effort to improve health awareness, data collection and services for teenagers.
Nearly 2,000 people participated in “National Teen Test Day” at Trinity United Church of God in Christ, where hundreds of teens received free, confidential tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as screenings for hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, and stroke. Teens were tested for Body Mass Index, and spinal assessments, and donated blood as medical professionals Counselors also shared information about health maintenance.
Fifteen-year-old Dashaunicka Holmes wanted the free hip hop concert tickets given to teens who came out to get tested, so she didn’t mind doing something she had never done before, she took an HIV test. Dabbing a cotton swab in her mouth for a saliva sample, Dashaunicka handed the sample to a nurse waiting to record her contact information. She was among more than 500 teens who took a test to find out their HIV status.
Health professionals said teens often feel they are invincible and never will get HIV or other diseases. That’s why National Teen Test Day Foundation co-founders Carlos Meyers and Vanessa Muhammad wanted to put on a youth-led health wellness fair.
Chloe Rose Jackson felt confident. After all, the 15-year-old said, she wasn’t even sexually active. Sheldon Smith, 19, who donated blood and was tested for HIV, gets screened for the virus every six months, far more frequently than his peers. “When you’re 19, who is thinking about going to the doctor every six months?” Sheldon said.
The event evolved out of surveys of teens about topics they found most important. The topics became themes for the MAGIC Teen Talk Chicago cable television. But organizers felt the responses about HIV deserved more than just a TV discussion. They hope Teen Test Day will become nationally recognized.
“We started looking for an agency that had teen-specific stuff, but nobody had it. Everything done for teens was done as an adult presentation. We believe that when you have teens presenting information to other teens, they’re more likely to listen,” Mr. Meyers said.
“The youth really took possession of the idea of a teen test day and pulled it all together. They also participated in the outreach to the agencies and developed the program for the day,” said Vanessa Muhammad, editorial supervisor for The Final Call newspaper.
“When have you ever seen 500 people, not to mention 500 teenagers, get tested for HIV in one day? It was amazing,” she said.
Beate Lindberg came from Sweden just to cover the events. “I would love for Teen Test Day to come to Sweden and show the kids there that it’s ok to get tested and know your status,” she said. She plans to do a radio report and present an exhibition about Teen Test Day in Stockholm.
The day included a press conference, testing, a skit, proclamations from Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago and Gov. Rod Blagajevich of Illinois, a stunning VIP reception and evening hip hop concert. Joanne Glenn, founder of Comprehensive Quality Care Inc., Foundation provided a team of nurses to perform the HIV test and Rosanne Weathersby, president of The Gift House, another agency performing HIV testing, was surprised to have run out of the test. “The biggest problem in the Black community is still the stigma of the disease. Events like this will go a long way to erase that stigma. I hope this is not a one-time event,” she said.
The evening before National Teen Test Day, organizers held a five hour live radio-takeover at 90.5 FM RadioArte station targeting Latino youth. Rappers Crucial Conflict and Tha Pope encouraged teens to remove the stigma of getting tested for HIV. Teens came to the radio station to be tested and to meet the artists. The artists also performed during the evening concert with Dude N Nem, Shorty K, Red Storm and Malik Yusef.
“When it comes to many diseases and health issues, teens are often overlooked. Today our teens have stepped up to be counted,” said MAGIC Executive Director Bryan Echols.
“We are fighting for the spirit of our youth and we have to wage the war in that way. I love what MAGIC does because they don’t just talk at teens, they give them their own voice and become a safety net for them,” said Dr. Carol Adams, head of the Illinois Department of Human Services.
The event included free breakfast catered by Perfect Peace CafÃ©, free lunch and give-a ways, andPOWER 92 FM live radio broadcasting at both events.
“This is a critically important problem because almost 70 percent of the STDs among teenagers in Chicago are among African American children. We have an epidemic,” warned Dr. Terry Mason, commissioner ofChicago Dept. of Public Health.
Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. Damon Arnold read a proclamation on behalf of Gov. Blagojevich. He implored parents to “talk truthfully” to their children. “Make sure they know that in every sexual encounter there’s a possibility that you can die. When you decide to have unprotected sex, you are putting a loaded gun to your head,” he said.
For more information on MAGIC, visit www.magicchicago.org, or www.teentestday.com or contact Vanessa Muhammad at (773) 447-0976 or Carlos Meyers at (312) 799-0398.