"Our son didn't deserve to die," said the parents of Trayvon Martin. Just 17 years old when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Trayvon wasn't doing anything besides walking home with a bag of Skittles and some iced tea in his hands. Doing what the average teenager does. What makes Trayvon's death so much harder is knowing the man who confessed to killing him, George Zimmerman, may be acquitted. No family should ever have to go through this nightmare. The law should protect everyone, regardless of where they live, how much money they make, or what color their skin is.
But Trayvon's killer is still free for now. The surest path to justice runs through Sanford, Florida, and through the office of State's Attorney Norman Wolfinger, who is responsible for prosecuting Zimmerman. I can't say I am amazed at the response to the senseless death/killing of Trayvon Martin. But I am left with the question, where is this outrage about the rising rate of America's young people being infected by a 100% preventable virus we know as HIV? Where is the outrage about your youth school district still teaching ABC? Where is the outrage for the predators in our own community that continue to prey on our young girls and boys while families turn their heads as not to see? The sexual abuse of our young adults, both male and female, have experienced places them more likely to engage in sexual or drug-related risk behaviors that could put them at risk for HIV infection.
I have to ask myself whether the outrage over Trayvon is because someone outside of our community committed the offense, and the spread of HIV among ourselves is not an issue that requires the same or even more outrage. If every person who stood rallying in the parks and on the street to show their solidarity for the family of Trayvon Martin were to organize, mobilize and dialog with of youth about their own sexual health, we could turn this epidemic around.
Changing school policies of abstinence-only sex education and education that focuses on the sexual health of our youth is the responsibility that we must bear. Are we as a collective community more comfortable with responding to violence while other issues that are killing our youth daily continue to go without a peep?
The lives of all of our young men have value. Where is the outrage when the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data have shown that young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), especially young African American and young Latino MSM, have high rates of new HIV infections. Another CDC study showed that young MSM and minority MSM were more likely to be unaware of their HIV infection, a situation that puts their health and the health of their partners at risk. Young MSM may be at risk because they have not always been reached by effective HIV interventions or prevention education-especially because some sex education programs exclude information about sexual orientation. A CDC study of MSM in 15 cities found that 80% had not been reached in the past year by HIV interventions known to be most effective. Young MSM may also have increased risk factors for HIV (such as risky sexual behaviors) due to isolation and lack of support.
Do your youth know that the presence of an STI greatly increases a person's likelihood of acquiring or transmitting HIV? Some of the highest STI rates in the country are among young people, especially young people of minority races and ethnicities. Have you taken the time to find out what the rates of STIs are in our county of residence? We all know that abstaining from sex and drug use is the most effective way to avoid HIV infection. The CDC indicates that young people in the US use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs at high rates. CDC's 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found that 24.2% of high school students had had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey, and 20.8% had used marijuana at least one time during the 30 days before the survey. Both casual and chronic substance users are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Runaways, homeless young people, and young persons who have become dependent on drugs are at high risk for HIV infection if they exchange sex for drugs, money, or shelter. However, research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV. This lack of awareness can translate into not taking measures that could protect their health.
So while we are all having a conversation with our youth about safety in the street from violence, take some time to share accurate, age-appropriate information about HIV and AIDS, how to reduce or eliminate risk factors, how to talk with a potential partner about risk factors and how to negotiate safer sex, where to get tested for HIV, and how to use a condom correctly. Parents, I suggest to you the need to reinforce health messages, including how to protect oneself from HIV infection.
Oh, I get it. You have the "not my child" syndrome. Let us go back to the numbers: The CDC's 2009 YRBS, many adolescents begin having sexual intercourse at early ages: 46.0% of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and 5.9% reported first sexual intercourse before the age of 13. Of the 34.2% of students reporting sexual intercourse during the 3 months before the survey, 38.9% did not use a condom.
The senseless violence that occurs in our communities is oftentimes of our control. Let we be outraged by the numbers and take control of what we can. Educate our youth, communicate with our youth, and don't throw any of our youth away. That includes our young men of color who have sex with men. If we don't the rate of HIV infection among our youth will continue to rise, just for doing what the average teenager does.
One year later, America has not forgotten Trayvon Martin. Rallies took place in Sanford on February 5th, which would have been his 18th birthday. On the following Tuesday, the anniversary of the tragedy, more rallies and demonstrations are held to commemorate that fateful night, honor Trayvon's memory and memorialize others lost to gun violence.
Too many young people in the United States (US) are at risk for HIV infection. This risk is especially notable for young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), especially young African American or Latino MSM, and all youth of minority races and ethnicities. Continual HIV prevention outreach and education efforts, including programs on abstinence, delaying the initiation of sex, and negotiating safer sex, are required as new generations replace the generations that benefited from earlier prevention strategies.
I am left asking myself:
Where is the outrage for the numbers: in 2009, young persons accounted for 39% of all new HIV infections in the US? For comparison's sake, persons aged 15-29 comprised 21% of the US population in 2010.
Where is the outrage, for our young men who have sex with men (MSM), especially those of minority races and ethnicities, who are at increased risk for HIV infection
Where is the outrage, for the numbers: that in 2009, young MSM accounted for 27% of new HIV infections in the US and 69% of new HIV infections among persons aged 13-29? Among young black MSM, new HIV infections increased 48% from 2006 through 2009.
Where is the outrage, for the estimated 8,294 young persons (ages 13-24 years) who were diagnosed with HIV infection in 2009 in the 40 states with long-term HIV reporting, representing about 20% of the persons diagnosed during that year?
Where is the outrage, for the numbers: that 75% (6,237) of these diagnoses occurred in young people aged 20-24 years? Indeed, those aged 20-24 had the highest number and rate of HIV diagnoses of any age group (36.9 new HIV diagnoses/100,000 people).
Where is the outrage, for the numbers: that in 2009, young blacks accounted for 65% (5,404) of diagnoses of HIV infection reported among persons aged 13-24 years?
Where is the outrage that in 2008, an estimated 22% of persons aged 13-24 living with diagnosed HIV infection were infected through hemophilia, blood transfusion, birth, or unknown transmission mode, with the majority being infected prenatally?
When will your community, your faith leaders, your school district and you stand rallying in the parks and on the street to show their solidarity to fight the killer from within? When will this epidemic become personal enough for you to organize, mobilize and dialog with our youth about their sexual health as a collective way to turn this epidemic around?
Read Khafre's blog, Freedom Rider.