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More Than Pencils, More Than Books

September 20, 2010

More Than Pencils, More Than Books
Last week I joined the millions of Americans who sent their children back to school when I took my nephew James to the airport so he could return to college for his final year in college. On our ride to the airport, James and I engaged in our annual tradition: talking about the school year, reviewing our expectations and discussing the importance of hard work and the value of education. (Actually, I did most of the talking. He did most of the listening.)

We also discussed his social life, which eventually led to the subject of HIV/AIDS.

At this point in our relationship, we don't need to have an "AIDS talk", because HIV/AIDS has become a seamless part of our regular conversations. We talk about sex, condoms and the importance of knowing your HIV status. James knows his status. When you consider the magnitude of the epidemic among Black youth -- roughly 9500 Black young people between the ages 13 and 29 become infected every year -- talking about HIV/AIDS is as important as any conversation that we might have with a young person going away to school.

Of course, not every young Black male has the misfortune of having an uncle who works at an AIDS organization. This summer James accompanied me to the Essence Music Festival, where he recruited young people to get tested for HIV. He told me about one 16- or 17-year-old young man whom James attempted to recruit by asking if he knew his status. The young man did not. James encouraged him to get tested, informing him that it was free, easy, painless and fast. Although the young man disclosed that he was sexually active and only used condoms sometimes, he didn't feel he needed to take the test. He was "good". Before James could challenge this misconception, the young man's mother walked over, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him away, saying, "He doesn't need to take an HIV test because he's not having sex yet."

Many young Black males lack accurate information about their sexual health. And too many parents are misinformed, too uncomfortable or otherwise unprepared to talk about their sexual wellness. And school systems fail to make the grade because they don't provide comprehensive sexual education.

In this issue we focus on preventing HIV/AIDS among youth. Diana Sholl reports on the impact that National HIV/AIDS Strategy will have upon sexual-health education, which is currently in disarray. She also investigates the proactive moves some parents are making to ensure their children get the information they need to stay healthy while the grown-ups get it together.

Not only are many school systems failing, health providers are as well. Writer Sara Lomax Reese reports that doctors routinely fail to talk to young men about sexual health, leaving those difficult conversations to parents -- in the Black community, that often means moms -- and if the mother is not able or willing to have that conversation, the young person is set up for a lifetime of poor sexual self care.

Yours in the struggle,


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