Two Schenectady teens who bravely talked about sex with other teens — not obscenely or jokingly, but in real terms about health risks — have won the prestigious Commissioner’s award from the state Department of Health.
Loveasia Walters and Jethro James ran “Real Talk” programs at Quest, where at-risk youth are encouraged to explore art rather than walking the streets.
Four other members of “Real Talk” around the state were also honored with the Commissioner’s Award.
The idea behind Real Talk was that adults sound like they’re moralizing when they tell a teenager not to have sex. But when the message comes from another teen, sometimes it sounds like good advice.
So the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, in collaboration with community groups, created Real Talk to teach teens to talk about AIDS.
Walters helped design the logo for Real Talk and then worked on the local strategy for reaching teenagers.
She helped map out areas where teens hang out, asked teens how they avoid risky sexual behavior — if at all — and counted the number of teens congregating in an area at once so that coordinators could plan events for the areas with the most teens.
In Real Talk events, she told teens how to have “safer” sex and encouraged them to stay virgins.
“Some of them are virgins, I kinda help them stay that way,” she said. “We started out being aware of the STDs and just trying to help kids use condoms if they’re going to be active, or just not be active.”
When friends tell her they’re going to have sex, she asks, “Are you sure about that? It’s not a game. It’s serious. Make sure you have a condom or something — some of the STDs can kill you. Some of them aren’t curable.”
She said she joined the group because she wanted to get the message to her friends.
“I wouldn’t want something like that for me, so why would I want it for someone I care about?” she said.
James was one of the original Real Talk members. In Schenectady, he helped create one of the first Real Talk videos, “Girls Who Carry Condoms” and recruited teens to join Real Talk.
He tells his friends that it’s “common courtesy” to use a condom. Like Walters, he also stresses that many STDs aren’t curable.
James has gone far beyond simply talking to his friends. He has participated in many “guerrilla art” events, in which teens write on the sidewalks with chalk to show cartoons with a Real Talk message or act out skits for teens to see as they pass by.
He also helped show HIV-prevention videos on the side of community buildings and the AIDS Council testing van.
At the 2011 World AIDS Day event, James convinced teens to get tested for HIV at the 2011 World AIDS Day event and ran HIV Jeopardy games with teens in between workshops.