By Dwight Hobbes
Young Black men, naturally propelled by their hormones and bombarded by media images, especially music videos, are practically programmed to pester young Black women for sex. Accordingly, young Black women, along with those influences, just like girls of all colors — including White — are susceptible to peer pressure and self-esteem issues that can override common sense and land them horizontal without having thought things all the way through.
Biological and social imperatives quite regrettably do not take into account the steady risk of such consequence as sexually transmitted disease. Or unwanted pregnancy. Both of which are the result of unprotected sex and a woeful neglect of sexual health.
Enter “Seen on da Streets” (SOS). Under the umbrella of Neighborhood Health Source, SOS is federally funded to provide awareness among sexually active young men and, when outreach allows, young women. Its stated goals are to reduce sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancies among adolescents and adults, age 15 to 24.
Fred Evans, community health coordinator, reflects on why the program began back in 2005 as a collaboration between the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, Teen Age Medical Service and Fremont Clinic. “It was started by a young man named Marlon Moore [who] did research and found out STD and pregnancy rates were really high in certain zip codes: 55411, 55412.” That’s North Minneapolis.
“Then,” Evans continues, “they started to look at ways to get young men into the clinics. We also did the same thing over at TAMS, Teen Age Medical Service in South Minneapolis. Which is in a transition period right now, but still going on very strong.”
Seen on da Streets benefits from an interest in — and, importantly knowledge of how to reach — African American males. “[They] weren’t coming in. So, we decided to take the clinic to them.” In an innovative, hands-on initiative, “We armed ourselves with urine cups, condoms, and information and hit the community. It was one of the craziest thoughts people ever had, that we’re going to go on the block and collect urine, bring it back to the clinic for testing, then see if we can get people to come in.”
Turns out it was in actuality not so crazy at all. “The amazing thing about it is that it worked. And it worked well. People came in.” Evans adds that the gang culture was an important target. “Those were the ones were trying to reach the most. We were very successful with them.”
A key aspect was that staff members didn’t try to moralize or lecture the people they were trying to reach. “We simply spoke to them in their language.” And rather than telling the guys that being responsible for their sexual health was some sort of obligation, the appeal was more to the fact that they wouldn’t want to wind up with an experience marked by dripping, itching, and a stinging, burning sensation in a particular body part.
“Also, we began to flip the script with the program and started [outreach] to young women.”
Along with stopping people on the street, Evans and company went into school systems and jails to do education and testing. “A lot of times young men weren’t being tested or wouldn’t test for some people, but when we brought in peer educators and that sort of thing — people who look like them, act like them, talk like them, and had a positive message — we were able to be very successful.
“We got young men and women to start being safe, taking care of themselves. Come in for their yearly appointments. Taking responsibility for themselves.”
Importantly, members of Seen on da Streets were able to get through to young females, impressing on them that “they have a voice, they can tell the young man ‘No’. Or they can say, ‘You really need to wear a condom if we’re going to do this.’” In short, “We let young people know that they needed to be responsible for their behavior.”
Another change in adolescent women assuming responsibility for behavior relates to reversing a conspicuous, historic tendency to keep welfare roles high. “Sometimes young women look at pregnancy as a rite of passage,” says Evans. “[There’s] a cycle.”
Part and parcel of sexual health is connection to chemicals. Be they hard as cocaine or comparatively innocuous (though still illegal) as marijuana or socially acceptable as alcohol, they characteristically impair judgment and easily lead to unprotected sex. “The two go together,” Evans says. “They’re connected. Including with teenage prostitution. A lot of times, that’s how guys get young women to things. They hook them up on drugs, have them strung out, and then get them to do what they want them to do.”
Strongly influential as bodily urges and social influences are, this program has proven to be one of consequence, having a demonstrated effect to counter and prevent irresponsible behavior.
Seen on da Streets operates in Minneapolis at Fremont Clinic, 3300 Fremont Ave. North, 612-588-9411; at Sheridan Clinic, 342 13th Ave. NE, 612-588-9411; and at Central Avenue, 2610 Central Ave. NE, 612-781-6816.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.