This morning I’ll attend the Black History Month celebration at Brooklyn’s High School for Public Service. As it happens, tomorrow (February 7th) is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. I’m glad to have a chance to talk to young people about this epidemic, but I’m afraid one day of awareness won’t do. Black New Yorkers now account for half of the city’s new infections, and new HIV diagnoses are rising among young black men who have sex with men. In a situation like this, we need to be aware of HIV every day of the year.
Teenagers are unstoppable, and they tend to assume they’re invincible. I know I did. During my senior year of high school I had a great job and a place on the honor roll – until I met a boy we’ll call Mr. X. Our relationship got so hot and heavy that it eclipsed everything else. I got fired from my job, expelled from school, and shocked back to my senses. Thankfully, the school principal let me finish the year. If my luck had been different, who knows what would have become of me. Did you know that education lowers a person’s risk of poverty, HIV, early parenthood and early death? I know it saved me.
Like many of today’s teens, I took risks. I ditched school and responsibilities, had unprotected sex. Today, most of New York City’s high school students don’t have sex. But among those who are sexually active, almost 30% are not using condoms!
Thankfully, condoms are not hard to find in New York City. The Health Department distributes free NYC Condoms all over town. We also have clinics in every borough where anyone, any age, can get a free HIV test just by asking. Never tried it? Call 311, give them your Zip code, and they’ll find the clinic closest to you. Or you can you go to www.hivtest.org and punch in your own Zip code. If you want free condoms, you’ll find a wealth of information at www.nyc.gov/condoms.
Have you ever taken any sexual risks that you regret? Do you have ideas about how we can get more young New Yorkers to protect themselves and their partners? Please post your ideas and stories. I’d especially like to hear from young people. What do you think?