WASHINGTON – The 20 high school students weren't the only ones ready to discuss AIDS with actress Ashley Judd and “American Idol” contestant Kimberley Locke Wednesday.
The students from Bell Multicultural High School here,joined students from St. Louis; Magnolia,Texas; and Salvador,Brazil,to discuss,through a live video conference,what young people can do to face the deadly virus.
The event was part of the three-day Global Youth Forum-Kids Talking About AIDS,sponsored by YouthAIDS,a non-profit initiative promoting healthy behavior for HIV prevention among those ages 18 to 34. Judd is the group's global ambassador.
Judd and Locke joined the high school students at Howard University as live Internet feeds allowed students sitting in classrooms miles away to talk about AIDS topics ranging from sex education to the role of government in preventing AIDS.
Judd noted that one in 20 capital teens have HIV,“the same as Haiti,the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”
She said the only effective way to prevent HIV is through a plan she referred to as the “ABCs.”
“Abstinence,being faithful and correct and consistent condom use are the only ways to successfully reach everyone when discussing HIV prevention,” Judd said. “I believe that the abstinence message alone does not solve the AIDS epidemic.”
Judd said condoms are 99.9 percent effective when used correctly and it is critical that young people know how to use a condom to protect themselves if they are sexually active.
“You have so much power to bring awareness,prevention and change,” Judd told the group.
The Global Youth Forum was the kick-off to a series of YouthAIDS events Wednesday, which was to conclude with a red carpet event featuring musicians Dave Matthews and Tracy Chapman and actress Minnie Driver.
Many of the students also voiced concerns about the role of pop culture,which conveys a continual message of sexual irresponsibility.
“I'm constantly faced with what image I'm portraying,” Locke said,referring to her recent climb to stardom. “I've consciously made the choice to be a clean artist.”
Locke added that viewers to either support or condone the messages and images they see on TV and in movies and hear in pop-music lyrics.
The Brazilian teens said the U.S. should provide more help,including lower-price drugs,to poorer countries and develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection.
Nate Allen,19,a Bell senior,said the forum was an excellent opportunity for students to see how other countries deal with AIDS.
“It all relates,” he said. “Unfortunately there's always a percentage of people who don't pay attention to things and don't catch on until it's too late.”
Allen said the best message he took from the discussion was the importance of youth being able to relate to other peers on these issues instead of having to rely on adults for information.
“It's up to us to take pop culture back and to express quality and dignity for both boys and girls,” Judd said.