January 8, 2014

Guilty: HIV/AIDS Stigma

In the mid-90's my family and I lived in a neighborhood that was within walking distance of several fast food restaurants. During that time, fast food was more of a special occassion trip since my mom was June Cleaver-esque and cooked a three course meal everyday for us and my dad. We would only eat out as a treat for being well behaved or having good grades and sometimes (yet rarely) when my mom didn't feel like going through the motions of cooking. My brother and I loved Burger King and McDonald's the most. The Burger King was closest to our house so we went there more than McDonald's.

I remember when I was around 5 or 6 my uncle came over to visit. I was terrified of my uncle at that time, he was very tall (especially from my viewpoint) and always wore these big cowboy hats and boots but he was kind of like the family messenger. He would come over and inform my mom of all the happenings with our extended family and with updates about their childhood neighbors and friends. He was my mom's oldest brother so I think she looked up to him, and even though I was scared of him he was still very much revered. After talking about mundane family affairs my uncle said "You know there's a girl around there at that Burger King with AIDS." I remember hearing him say it but it did not catch my attention. I didn't know what AIDS was really, I just knew it was always said with a negative connotation and a frowny face. My mom said something along the lines of "Oh ok, I didn't know that" and my uncle continued with "Yeah I'm not eating there anymore." 

Report cards were sent home some time after that and my brother and I had made good grades. Burger King here we come! I was super excited that I would experience the luxury of fries, a burger, and a cheap toy enscribed with the words "Made In China". So many of my toys were engraved with the phrase, I began to think Santa Claus was Chinese but I digress. We all hopped in the car and as usual my mom gave us some options and of course we squealed "Burger King!!!". She agreed but instead of going to the location that was 30 seconds away from our house, she made the trek to the other nearest Burger King which was about 5 minutes away. I didn't ask at the time why we went to a different Burger king, I didn't really care as long as I got a Kid's Meal.

We lived in the neighborhood another couple years then moved across town. Over those few years we never returned to that Burger King. What triggered this memory was Sunday morning I took a different route home from church and passed up the infamous Burger King. Even now as I look at it, it has a perminent stain, I don't think I could eat there if I really tried. The building is run down and unkempt but also it will always have that stigma. Back in the 90's there was A LOT of miseducation about HIV/AIDS and most discrimination was out of pure ignorance. Nowadays, there is a lot more factual information about the illness and we know that it has no face. It could be anyone. Your barber, the cashier at Taco Bell, the waiter at Chili's, the nurse at your doctor's office (Your doctor, too), your co-worker, anyone! 
I love my fellow man, regardless of their illness and I believe they should be treated with the same respect as anyone else.

Lastly, I know for a fact that lots of people my age are having unprotected sex and that's scary. I think lots of people still think they're immune to HIV/AIDS or that love will somehow overpower the disease. I am a celibacy/abstinence advocate but most people are the total opposite. Please use protection whenever you have sex and no matter who your partner is. Even condoms don't totally protect you from STDs. Also, know your partner! If that person is really into you waiting for a few months should be ok. Don't become another statistic. Even though medical advances have improved quality of life and prolonged the lifespan for HIV and AIDS patients, thousands of people die daily due to the disease. If you know someone having unprotected sex, please have a serious talk with them. Provide them with condoms if you must but help them in any way you can. 

January 2, 2014

RHOA: Nene and Cynthia's Debaucle

First of all, I'm not a fan of reality TV. I have watched a few episodes of RHOA (Real Housewives of Atlanta) in the past but nothing really piqued my interest. However, this week there has some buzz about an episode that did interest me and it's about teenage dating. I don't think I'm an expert in the subject but I think I should shed some light on the topic as a young person who grew up (and is still growing) in this modern age.

So, the whole topic revolves around Cynthia Bailey's 13 year old daughter who has recently begun to date with the support of her mother. Once Nene Leakes found out that Cynthia allowed her daughter to date she felt the need to state her strong opinion: A 13 year old should not be dating! Upon my research i found that there are mixed views about this seemingly controversial topic. Some people agree with Nene, some people side with Cynthia, but who's right?

When I was 13 I was in middle school, 8th grade to be exact. By then, I had seen it all. When I was in 6th grade it was not uncommon to see pregnant girls at school, while none of them were in my grade, I would see them waddling to and fro in the hallways. I didn't see much dating, but I was asked out a couple times and coyly denied. By my own standards I wasn't even mature to date, I would probably be giggling the whole time or something. By 7th grade dating had become more common, 12 year olds were sneaking kisses in during class exchange, holding hands as they walked to the bus, and buying Valentine's Day gifts for their significant other. The trend continued and dating was on the rise. 13 year old were buying their "loves" jewelry (and not the sterling silver stuff either, rubies and diamonds anyone?), matching sweatshirts and making out before parting ways to head to their respective yellow school bus.   Looking back on it now, it seems as childish as it sounds. It was puppy love and none of those people who were hopelessly in love are together these days.

In 6th and 7th grade it didn't bother me that I had never had a boyfriend or went out on a date. Sure I had crushes that I prayed would notice me but I was not ready for any kind of commitment. I had good friends to talk on the phone with and go to the movies with so I didn't feel like i was missing anything. By 8th grade I started to seriously consider dating not because I really evaluated myself and thought I was ready but because everyone else was doing it. The kisses, hugs, gifts, locker pictures seemed so cute and I wanted that. In middle school I was an emotional wreck and I'm glad I didn't date. I never asked my parents when I could date, but when the time came they agreed. I was 16 at the time much older than Cynthia's daughter.

Personally, knowing how I was in middle school I wouldn't allow my daughter NOR son to date until they were in high school. Even then it would be at least partially chaperoned. I don't think much good can come from dating too early. Being a teen especially a female is difficult enough and dating too early can lead to a warped self image or severe self esteem issues. Some kids think that a relationship means sex and have the whole idea wrong. I know, I know just like the kids did at my school sneaking in kisses and "feelskies" between classes I'm sure some of their parents didn't even know about their in school love affair. I don't think the best way is to bark at the child and permeate their brain with "NO DATING UNTIL HIGH SCHOOL" because that could lead to secrecy. As my parents did with me, I wouldn't mention it unless he/she brought it up and the. We could actually discuss things.

I believe kids have their whole lives ahead of them and there's no need to rush. Communication is important but being too lenient or trying to be friends with your teenage child is the wrong route to take. Yes, the times are changing but not in the most positive direction (just take a look around). I said all that to say that I am leaning more towards Nene side with this matter BUT there is a way to handle it so that it works out for everyone. Lastly, but most importantly think about your own experiences and use the lessons you learned while growing up.