Straight talk workshop gives teens strategies to be street wise
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - How to survive in an environment of peer pressure, street violence, drugs and alcohol was the focus of a seminar on teen health and safety Sept. 25. The Black Catholic Implementation Team, St. Monica Church's health ministry team and the Kansas City Health Initiative Project hosted the seminar, titled, "Countering the Miseducation of Our Youth: Strategies for Making Them Street Wise and Health and Safety Smart."
Marty Denzer/Key photo
City Councilman Alvin Brooks and Deacon Ken Greene discuss the Circles of Peace workbook on non-violence.
About 16 teenagers and their parents attended the half-day seminar at the Chancery-Gillham Plaza Building. Deacon Ken Greene of the Black Catholic Implementation Team introduced the presenters. "They're here to offer a little bit of education and a lot of support."
Phaedra Lombard, a women's health physician, her husband, Elton Lombard, and Alvin Brooks, mayor pro tem and Kansas City 6th District city councilman, were the presenters.
Elton Lombard spoke to the teens about the consequences of sex outside of marriage - not just the physical consequences of possible pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases - but the emotional and spiritual consequences.
"The two great commandments are to love God with your whole heart and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself," Lombard said. "How do you give yourself the best opportunity to have a loving spiritual relationship with another person?
"A loving, spiritual relationship involves giving another person a part of your spirit and getting a part of theirs. That's intimacy. If you've been giving yourself away a little at a time, how can you maximize your spiritual connection with the person you may eventually love enough to marry?"
He reminded the teenagers that sexually active teenagers often have emotional and self-esteem issues.
"It's tough to be a teenager," he said. "You're going through incredible physical changes. Puberty and the hormones that are going wild also affect your emotions, and they're tough to control."
Lombard asked the teenagers what they thought was a result of the rampant hormonal changes. One boy answered that girls were starting to look better. Over the laughter that followed his response, Lombard said, "What we do today affects what we are tomorrow. Girls will look better and better until you see the one girl you want to spend the rest of your life with. So today is practice for tomorrow."
Phaedra Lombard, who along with her husband, is a member of St. Monica Parish, spoke of the physical consequences of premarital sex. Showing graphic photographs of sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, she told the kids that, "STDs are equal opportunity diseases that can make a victim feel embarrassed, unclean and mad at the person who gave it to them. Angry kids talk, and soon everyone's going to know who gave another an STD."
The female doctor also cautioned the teenagers about genital warts, which are common among sexually active teens, and the dangers of contracting HIV-AIDS.
"HIV is not just a disease of homosexuals," she said. "African-American teenagers are the fastest growing group of new cases of HIV in America. It is the number one killer of African American males ages 25-44," she said.
All participants received informational brochures on sexually transmitted diseases and Christian ways to avoid and respond to peer pressure to engage in premarital sex.
While the teenagers were listening to the Lombards, parents were hearing strategies for educating their teens and themselves on street smarts and safety from Al Brooks. After a short coffee break, the groups switched and the Lombards spoke with the parents.
Brooks spoke with the teens.
"What is the hip-hop generation? Who belongs to the hip-hop generation?" he asked them.
Hands waved in the air. A variety of responses followed: "This is the hip-hop generation, but I think rap is filth." "Our generation is the hip-hop generation." "It's our generation; hip-hop is our thoughts in music. Hip-hop artists rap about our clothes, our politics and our lives."
To the kids' surprise, Brooks said he also was a part of the hip-hop generation. "I'm 72 years old and have grandchildren. If you have young people, children, grandchildren or other young folks in your family, everyone in the family is, in one respect or another, a part of the hip-hop generation."
"Hip-hop brought with it violence, drugs, disrespect for women and girls and sexual misbehavior. I listen to it so I will know what the kids listen to. I needed to know the causes of what was happening to our teens as well as the symptoms," Brooks said.
Several teens said they thought there was both good and bad in hip-hop music but, "we may listen to it but we don't do the bad stuff."
Brooks countered that the ideas in hip-hop are insidious, the language and thoughts eventually becoming a part of everyday use.
"What can we as parents and adults do to support the good in our kids?" he asked.
Gary said, "Listen to us more. Listen to our music, and talk with us, not down to us. You were kids once."
Brooks told the teenagers that the popular "gangsta rap" is a cross-over between Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic rap music styles. "The music is heard, seen on television and in clothing styles, and it becomes part of the youth culture. The themes of violence and drugs and disrespect for women are a 21st century American dilemma."
Gary objected to Brooks' summary. "Even though we may listen to 'filth,' if we live in a family where we've been taught right from wrong, and we know the difference, we are less affected by the music. Besides, our parents are uncomfortable with our culture, but their parents were uncomfortable with their culture and that goes way back. Our culture didn't just appear over night, it evolved."
"Yes," Brooks said. "But we still don't know how to deal with it."
Matthew looked around as though pulling all the teens together and said, "We are a more open generation. We are more open to listening to each other and to trying new things, like wearing pink. Remember Marvin Gaye's song, "Let's get it on"? Our music says the same things your music said. Ours is just more explicit. If you know what's right, you do it."
Brooks said, "Kids who have their heads on straight have to try to influence those kids who need some help."
Each adult and teenager received a participant's workbook on nonviolence, "Circles of Hope, Circles of Peace." Families were also encouraged to take pledge of nonviolence.