Elkton High cheerleaders Chaka-khan Webster and Chantale Wesley have been polishing a rap song with a message for their generation:
"We're not here, ho, to preach to you
We're here, ho, to teach to you
We're gonna tell you about a disease called AIDS . . .
AIDS can't be spread by casual contact
Hugging, kissing, and sitting on laps . . .
The virus is spread through blood and semen,
Vaginal fluids, these are all good reasons
to use a condom."
In an impromptu performance of their rap song at a November workshop for fellow volunteers who work as peer AIDS education counselors, the two girls got the response they hope to see when they perform their song before high school teens throughout Cecil County: understanding, not embarrassment.
As testimony to how seriously the volunteers take their work for the AIDS Prevention Education Program, you won't find peer counselors who are giggling or nervous when using sexually explicit terms to spread the message that unprotected sex places teens at risk of contracting the fatal disease.
Along with counseling fellow students before and after school and between classes, the volunteers can be found speaking to church and other community groups about the need for teens and adults to be informed about AIDS and its prevention.
"I decided to volunteer after I took a look around at my friends. They couldn't talk to their parents about these issues," explained Chantale.
The AIDS peer education program was started with a $10,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The program trains teens to counsel other teens about acquired immune deficiency syndrome and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The grant, which covers expenses for the teen counseling program, was obtained through the United Black Ministers and Laymen's Alliance of Harford and Cecil counties.
"We're volunteering to find inner peace in our souls to deal with our problems and society's problems, and to learn how to help each other," said Damian Jones, a 15-year-old volunteer who is a sophomore at Bohemia Manor High School in Chesapeake City.
"I want to show the positive, as far as young people, and especially black young people," said Danniele Fenwick, a 14-year-old junior at Elkton High.
"I want to galvanize somebody to succeed."
Teen counselors meet once a week for two hours with adult leader Betty Johnson to discuss how to address issues frankly with peers, such as how to build self-esteem.
"They have to feel good about themselves, and have confidence, so they can talk to other people without feeling intimidated or inferior," said Ms. Johnson.
At their meetings, the students also are given up-to-date information on drug and alcohol abuse, contraceptives and AIDS.
Ms. Johnson said that the teens work hard at coming up with original ideas to convey their message.
"I think this group is getting the message out, and they've made an impact as far as changing their attitudes toward themselves," said Ms. Johnson.