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HIV, Music Culture, & Black Youth
  Researchers, radio personalities explore links among HIV/AIDS, sexuality, black youth
By Lorinda M. Bullock NNPA National Correspondent
Editor's note: This story contains explicit descriptions of sexual situations.
TORONTO ( N N P A ) - Researchers and radio personalities do agree with what uncool parents have been saying all along about today's hip hop music-it does influence young people when it comes to their choices about sex.
But, parents shouldn't be so quick to pat themselves on the back.
Both the researchers and experts in the hip hop music community assembled at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada recently, suggest the information young people are getting about sex from music and music videos must be balanced out with information at home and in school.
"It's a social problem all of us have to share," said Wesley Crichlow, an associate professor in social science at the University of Ontario Institute for Technology. He has studied black youth gang violence, gay and lesbian issues among other social issues facing black youth.
Crichlow said that because the black communities in Canada, the Caribbean and the U.S. still associate HIV/AIDS with being a homosexual disease and consider topics of sex taboo, young blacks have a false sense of security.
"Our youth have not yet begun to understand the seriousness of HIV because our young people see themselves as immune," Crichlow explained.
Young people under the age of 25 account for half of new HIV and AIDS infections, scientists and activists used the conference as a platform to address the epidemic, often using very frank discussion to address the impact of youth culture and music and its connection with the disease.
During a session called "Hip Hop and Reggae Dance Hall Kings and Q u e e n s : Dropping it Like it's Hot," the panel of youth health and social workers, radio personalities and a club DJ as well as scholars such as Crichlow discussed talking openly with young people about lyrics that are overt as well as subtle and making conscious decisions at clubs and parties where alcohol and drugs often impair teens decisions.
Most importantly, they discussed solutions.
Lisa Skeete, a Canadian radio personality and black cultural heritage instructor with the Toronto District school board, said producers of reggae and dancehall music in Jamaica have in the past packaged condoms with their albums because of the sexually explicit lyrics and dance steps that emulate sexual acts.
"You'd have the album title and you'd have the song title on the back and there was a condom that was going out so there was that subliminal message, while you're getting your groove on in the dance hall, don't forget after put on your condom," Skeete said.
Miranda Ward was the lone American of the panel of mostly Canadians. The cofounder of Promising Futures, a youth empowerment and health education organization, explained that in the U.S., one way to combat HIV and AIDS is to put on a large-scale campaign similar to entertainer P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" during the 2004 presidential election.
"That particular year, more youth and young adults got registered to vote than any other year... All of that was great (but) when we talk about responsibility as an artist, it has to be more than a one time-shot because after that, we don't know if they actually went to go vote. One time is not enough," Ward said.
Black youth ages 13 through 19 make up 70 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S., but are only 17 percent of America's teen population. Because young black Americans bear the brunt of the disease, Mila Gorokhovich, cofounder of the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, said there is a serious need for them to be represented on the activism front.
Gorokhovich was not part of the panel, but told the NNPA News Service earlier, "I don't see them enough... It was so frustrating given that black young people are the most affected were not provided with the tools in the U.S. to deal with the problem and I'm finding that to be a huge issue."
Gorokhovich said black American youth are at a serious disadvantage considering the lack of quality sex education and the fact that the federal government will only fund abstinence only programs in schools.
When discussing lyrics, panelist Rose-Ann Bailey, a youth program coordinator at the Rexdale Community Health Centre in Canada, explained that parents and other adults can't be shy. She used a popular hip hop song played in American clubs about oral sex as an example.
"We're not telling them don't have sex or don't put it in your mouth, but how you put it in your mouth and make sure you're doing it safely or say 'no, I'm not putting it in my mouth,'" she said to a mix of thunderous applause and laughter.
Miguel Munoz Laboy, an associate professor in the department of Sociomedical Sciences of Columbia University, surprised a mixed audience of adults and young people earlier in the week when he presented his study of three urban areas in Harlem during a session about the unspoken taboo of young people and sex.
"We found that youth who have experienced intercourse are most likely to enjoy listening and dancing to hip hop," Laboy said.
But, Laboy did point out that his pool of participants came from predominately black and Latino communities, where education and socioeconomic status and other deeper community issues are at play and the music was not entirely to blame. He used questionnaires and conducted in-depth interviews with mostly young black, and Hispanic men ages 16 through 21.
Many activists at the conference said they wanted to see more religious figures come to the table to discuss youth, sex and HIV/AIDS.
"Young men who use condoms inconsistently have a higher affiliation with religious church groups," he said.
Present and very attentive at both the Laboy's presentation and the discussion about hip hop was 16- year-old Akinyi Shapiro of Bethesda, Md. She said she understands that she's a walking trifecta. She's young, female and of a black and Jewish descent, making her a part of all three of the statistically hardest hit groups.
Black women in the U.S. account for 67 percent of AIDS diagnoses among women.
"I'm blessed and I'm cursed at the same time. So I'm cursed because society will look at me as a statistic, but I'm blessed because I can work against those stereotypes," Akinyi said.
She already stood out from the crowd because of the large Afro forming a halo around her face, but her insights during the question and answer period of the panel made her seem wise beyond her years.
Part of the reason was because she knows HIV/AIDS all too well-her mother died of the disease when she was six. Akinyi was not infected and has made it her personal mission to protect her friends, especially the young people.
But even with all the knowledge and personal experience she's had, it is not easy to convince her friends to protect themselves.
"I have friends that practice unsafe sex. I'm like the condom lady. I have to actually go to the CVS [drugstore], deal with the dirty looks at the cashier-it's not like I care-and give them the information that I should. The biggest thing that breaks my heart is when I try to deliver the information and people think I'm nagging them."
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