Encouraging self-care, creativity in teenagers just takes a little MAGIC!
By Deva Woodly
Photos by Lloyd DeGrane
At the recent Teen Test Day, held at the South Shore Cultural Center, representatives of local organizations, including the University Medical Center, promoted healthy choices and healthy habits to teenagers, who dropped by the national event. Teen Test Day was launched in 2006 to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among teenagers. HIV testing was available at the site, as was information on diet and nutrition as well as health risks. Directly above, Community Outreach Specialist Althera Steenes of the University Medical Center promotes healthy eating habits for growing teens.
Nancy Fritz, a pediatrician who splits her time between the University Medical Center and La Rabida Children’s Hospital, along with Kenneth Alexander, Associate Professor and Chief of Infectious Diseases in Pediatrics at the University, talk with two teenage girls at the National Teen Test Day event.
SSA alumnus Joseph Strickland (A.M.,’02) has been encouraging teens to work, think and speak for themselves through his nonprofit organization MAGIC, which he founded in 2001.
The Metropolitan Area Group for Uniting Civilization has a number of programs that encourage creativity and nurture leadership ability, including the Woodlawn Mural Arts Apprenticeship Program, the Woodlawn Stringed Instrument Program, the Young Gifted and Organized Program, and MAGIC Teen Talk Chicago.
The latter is a talk show developed “by teens, for teens and about teens,” and its aim is to change the one-dimensional stereotypes of urban youth by presenting a more nuanced picture. The teenagers, who participate both on and off camera, meet weekly to discuss issues that are important to them and to brainstorm ideas for upcoming shows. One of their more impressive ideas was to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among teenagers by creating a National Teen Test Day.
Allen Linton, now a third-year in the College, became involved with MAGIC in 2006, when he was tapped to be an on-air personality. He now helps produce the show and instructs teens on how to write, videotape and present the hourlong program.
Linton remembers the conversation that launched National Teen Test Day. The MAGIC participants had gathered at Social Service Center at the School of Social Service Administration, where the issue of HIV/AIDS and the ways it affects their age group and their neighborhood came up for discussion.
“As we were talking about it, we all realized what a big deal it is,” Linton recalls, “over half the newly diagnosed HIV cases are among people age 13 to 25.” Seeing the passion of the youth, Carlos Meyers, Kenneth Parker and Vanessa Muhammad, the adult coordinators of the group, decided to petition Chicago’s mayor to create a day of awareness and action. After obtaining permission from Mayor Richard Daley, the group sought a proclamation from the Governor of Illinois. With his charter in hand, the group observed the first National Teen Test Day in January 2008.
“Last year between 1,500 and 2,000 people attended the test day, and we were able to screen over 600 teens for HIV,” Meyers said. “That had never been done before.”
This year’s event, held Saturday, Jan. 3, included free screenings for diabetes, HPV, breast/cervical cancer, HIV/STDs, bone marrow density, sickle cell anemia, asthma and cholesterol. The event, held at the South Shore Cultural Center, also offered free counseling.
However, National Teen Test Day is more than a health fair; it also is a time for creative expression. During the daylong event, the South Shore Cultural Center also hosted live performances of local music and theater artists.
The fusion of health-care goals and the fun-filled approach to Teen Test Day makes the experience unique, said Linton. “It’s a time to talk about the issue of HIV/AIDS, which teens don’t often do. It’s about sharing information on how to make good decisions. It’s about youth power through education.”
For more information, visit http://www.nationalteentestday.org/.