Play Safe! is not your typical safe sex education program. It incorporates games, multimedia, role playing and community projects to teach teens about safe sex. And Reverend Malik Saafir, who leads the class, is certainly not what you’d expect of a pastor. First of all, he talks about sex—in public no less. He also loves hip-hop, especially Tupac Shakur. In fact, Rev. Saafir likes Tupac so much that his license plate reads "MAKAVELI." You know, Tupac’s alter ego? So maybe Play Safe! and Rev. Saafir are a perfect match.
Play Safe! is a community based HIV/STD group level intervention for African Americans ages 12-17 years with a Center for Disease Control (CDC) endorsed program entitled Focus on Youth at its core. Focus on Youth is designed specifically for African American young people and not only provides education regarding HIV and STDs, it teaches a decision making model, assertive communication skills and encourages HIV testing while addressing stigma and building team cohesion
The continuation of this program has been funded by the Arkansas Department of Health. This summer, Play Safe! has partnered with another city-funded program called the Inner City Futurenet youth program. The classes are divided by gender and are designed especially for Black youth, a group that is disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Although Black teens represent only 16% of U.S. teenagers, they accounted for 69% of new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2005. Kids find out about things one would expect to learn in a sex education class—facts and figures about STDs and the right way to use a condom. But there’s also music, which brings us back to Tupac.
During one recent class boys were being, well, boys. Some had just finished playing basketball and were still fueled by adrenaline. Even the ones who hadn’t played basketball were loud and a little rowdy. Then Rev. Saafir opened up his laptop and turned on a song by Tupac and R&B singer Keisha Cole called Playa Cardz Right and a funny thing happened. They listened. They were still hyper and loud, but they actually listened to the lyrics of the song. Some of the boys already knew the song and were saying the lyrics right along with Tupac and Keisha. And that’s the point according to Rev. Saafir.
"When you take anything in our culture and you bring it into the classroom, you give them (students) the opportunity to see through that, how the information that you’re giving them connects to their own life. And to me it makes it more practical in that respect," said Saafir.
After playing the song, Rev. Saafir passed out copies of the lyrics to the boys. The boys were then split into groups and asked to look for lyrics that talked about sex and relationships.
I wanna be the one who
Who you can depend on, who
Who’ll be the one who’ll be there
Through the thick and thin
Not only was the song a lesson about sex, it also became a lesson about long-term, lasting relationships. "It’s trying to get young people to understand the impact that their individual choices have on not only their life but also the larger community that they’re part of," said Saafir.
So does Rev. Saafir believe he’s making an impact on the boys’ lives? He can only say, "Time will tell."
As children, we often dream about what we want to be when we grow up. Now, a new program is giving future doctors and nurses a head start on their careers. "Hey Everybody, I’m Going to be a Doctor!" is a 6-week summer enrichment program for kids entering grades six through eight. The program is the vision of Patrick Oliver of Say it Loud! and is funded by a grant from UAMS’ Center for Diversity Affairs.
Students meet for two hours twice a week, and for the first hour focus on math-- geometry, fractions and decimals. Math tutor Abdul Omar is pleased with how quickly students are learning. "They tend to understand the concepts very well, and I’m very proud of them, very proud," he said. "I think the kids can learn as long as they concentrate, as long as you make it fun and don’t take it too serious."
After math, students focus on reading and computer literacy. They’ve researched salaries and education requirements for various medical professions, and are reading "We Beat the Street," a book about three childhood friends who made a pact to finish school and become doctors. Doctors from UAMS are scheduled to visit the students and discuss the book.
Sixth Grader Stephanie Smith, who wants to become a registered nurse, learned about "Hey Everybody, I’m Going to be a Doctor!" from a family friend. She believes it’s important for kids to continue their education, even during summer vacation. "I think they should keep a program like this during the summer so you can still remember the things from the past grade until the next grade, and so you won’t forget a lot of the skills that you have gotten over the school year," said Smith.
Next summer, Summer Program Coordinator Rhonda Robinson hopes to expand the program to include more kids and other professions. She said, "It would be nice if they could expand it to say Hey, I’m Going to be a Lawyer or a Police Officer. I just think it’s a building block for greater things to come."
For the first time this summer, BCD, in partnership with the Department of Human Services, is offering a free lunch program. Anyone 18 years old or younger is invited to eat lunch Monday through Friday from 12 – 1:30pm at the Hoover Center.
"The goal of it is to supplement children’s meals," said Summer Food Service Program Coordinator Nicki Spencer. "There are some kids in the state whose only meal comes during the school year, during school hours."
While some meals like chicken strips and hamburgers have proved to be popular, others like pizza "did not go over well," according to Spencer. It’s important to program coordinators to offer kid-friendly foods that also meet USDA requirements. "There’s no point in giving them a meal if they’re not going to eat it. That defeats the whole program," said Spencer.
Each meal includes a serving of dairy, two servings of fruit or a vegetable, two ounces of meat and a serving of bread.
* In accordance with Federal law and U.S. Department of Agriculture policy, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sec, age, or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Adjudication and Compliance, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 or (202)720-6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
Seven members of the AmeriCorp VISTA program are lending a hand with BCD’s summer programs.
VISTA Nona Rose, who recently graduated from college, is helping out with the "Hey Everybody, I’m Going to be a Doctor!" program and YIP. She said, "It’s good to work with students that are from my old neighborhood, because I can relate to them. And I’m not that much older than them so they’re able to talk to me in ways they couldn’t talk to other people."
Meanwhile, VISTA Kayla Johnson oversees the free summer lunch program, making sure that lunch is served on time and that everyone receives a meal. Summer Food Service Program Coordinator Nicki Spencer is thankful for the help. She said, "Thanks to the AmeriCorp program, we’re able to make this program work."
This summer's VISTA participants include...
Nona Rose - is a recent college graduate from Fisk University with a B.S. in Biology. Nona greatly assisted with the Hey Everybody, I'm Going to be a Doctor program by preparing the room each morning for the students arrival, helping the students comprehend the information that was being presented, and encouraging them to be the best individuals they know how to be.
Frederick Smith - is a recent college graduate from Philander Smith College with a B.S. in English. He is a native from Chicago, IL and will be pursing a career in law enforcement.
Hope Johnson - is the Female YIP assistant. She has had a great influence in getting the youth involved in journaling and reading. The young ladies look up to Hope for guidance and respects are down to earth personality.
Jimmy Doss - is the Male YIP assistant. Jimmy assisted with the Hoover Youth program last year and he makes sure the youth are actively going to group and respecting each other and the rules that are set in place.
Deneetra Williams - is a young lady who has attended Hoover's YIP program for several years. Upon graduating from Central High School and with her maturity Deneetra was a good fit to be an female assistant for the program as well. In the fall, she will be attending Philander Smith College and she hopes to pursue a degree in Nursing.
Kayla Johnson - is going into her second year at Tennessee State University majoring in biochemistry. Her main responsibility for the summer was to oversee the food program in making sure each youth received a shared portion.
First United Methodist Church, Sweet Home, where Rev. Barbara Douglas is Senior Pastor, was recognized as 2010’s recipient of the William Robinson Visionary Award at the annual award banquet for ACHANGE (Arkansas Coalition of Housing and Neighborhood Growth for Empowerment).
ACHANGE's mission is to serve as a collective voice promoting quality affordable housing and community economic development throughout Arkansas. This organization is known for their great work across Arkansas and for playing a pivotal role in creating a Housing Trust Fund for the State of Arkansas.
The William Robinson Visionary Award recognizes the committed service, contributions and accomplishments of faith-based community development practitioners. Other awards given out were the Community Service Award, Triumph Award, Founder’s Award, Excellence in Education, Joe A. Miller Award and the Humanitarian Award.