Responsibility and prevention
RESEARCHERS in sociology have predicted that 40 percent of American girls now 14 will become pregnant before they leave their teens. As teen-age pregnancy has grown to what is popularly called epidemic proportions, the awareness is also growing that sex education and contraceptives -- the technical fixes -- cannot solve the problem. The best, the most heartfelt, evidence of this comes from those who speak out of firsthand experience.Skip to next paragraph
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LeHavre Buck was 17 and a senior in high school when his 16-year-old girlfriend told him she was pregnant.
``It was a traumatic experience,'' he recalls. ``You don't know what to do. You just don't want to hear it.''
As the shock wore off, the young man came to terms with his responsibility. He quit school, enlisted in the Marines to provide a steady income, and married his girlfriend.
For the Bucks, the story ends well: They have been married 21 years and are the parents of three children. But the Rev. Buck, now a businessman and part-time minister, still remembers the hardships surrounding that early experience, and he wants to persuade a new generation of teen-age boys to postpone sexual activity and accept responsibility for their actions.
``When we talk about male responsibility, we're into prevention,'' he says, referring to the local workshops he gives as part of a new National Urban League campaign on male responsibility. ``The idea is not so much to bring water after the fire has started, but to prevent the fire from starting by informing the male, helping him find some self-esteem, and helping him find alternatives to becoming sexually active.''
Building self-esteem and offering alternatives -- those goals lie at the heart of several innovative efforts to lower Milwaukee's black teen-age birthrate, now the highest in the nation. In addition to the Urban League's program for boys, a new group called Reach for the Stars seeks to give girls a sense of possibility for the future by using successful black women as role models. This week has also been declared Reach for a Dream Week in public schools, with workshops on self-worth, goal-setting , and the importance of postponing instant gratification.
``You get kids who are born into a cycle of poverty,'' says Janice Anderson, founder of Reach for the Stars and organizer of Reach for a Dream Week. ``Their parents are on welfare. You probably have a generation of kids who grow up in neighborhoods where they never actually see a person put on a suit and go to work. Therefore they feel the welfare system is all there is. They don't see any way out, because they don't have anyone around them to say, `Look, there is an alternative to living in this housing project, an alternative to teen-age pregnancy.'
``The black community has to assume part of the responsibility,'' she continues, ``because those of us who make it leave, and we never go back. And we have to go back. All of us have a story to tell.
``I don't know of many black persons who have made it who didn't really pull themselves out of a hardship. We need to go back to the kids and say that we were able to come out of some of the same conditions that they are living in now, and let them see that they can do it, too.'' DR. ANDERSON, now president of a health maintenance organization, knows firsthand the importance of models.