Ninth and 10th graders from Kennedy High School gathered in their gym Thursday to watch a performance about givin’ it up and hookin’ up—and the risks associated with those behaviors.
The play, called “Secrets,” was performed by a group of young adults employed by Kaiser who travel Northern California to spread facts about the consequences of unsafe sex, including sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and HIV.
It was the third year the program has partnered with the high school to bring awareness to World AIDS Day, an annual December 1 event that aims to unite individuals who are living with HIV or AIDS, and spread a message of awareness to those who aren’t.
Of all 170 schools the Oakland-based performance-program serves, Richmond contains one of the most at-risk populations, said Secrets Program Coordinator Hannah Cordero.
“In a lot of areas in the U.S., HIV rates are going down,” she said. “This is one of the communities where the rates are staying the same.”
The play opened with a musical number on its small stage, while the hundreds of chatty teens looked on from the bleachers. It briskly transitioned into a series of skits that featured scenarios teens are likely to find themselves in; three girls discussed going to a football game to see the guys they liked, and actors later found themselves at a rowdy party.
Other conversations referred to peer pressure, contraceptives and IV drug use.
Towards the end of the play, “Eddie,” a character who was having a relationship with “Monica,” went to an HIV testing clinic and found out he was positive for the virus, which causes AIDS and immune system failure.
“Aw, man, I hope I didn’t give it to Jessica,” Eddie said to the audience, referring to a girl he hooked up with before Monica.
The play included modern touches that got the attention of the teens. L.M.F.A.O.’s “Party Rock Anthem” blasted through speakers during the party scene, and the actors used familiar slang and jargon.
Keeping the performance relevant is one of Cordero’s jobs as an artistic director, she said.
Four-year veteran Huan Dong has seen the serious impact the play can have on students despite its facetious approach, he said.
“We take those funny moments and allow them to laugh, and then we turn it into a learning moment,” Dong said. He added that some teens have approached him and fellow performers after shows to talk about serious issues including hidden pregnancies and rape.
Kaiser and its performers were hosted by the high school’s Youth Advisory Board, a leadership group of students who plan events. Those students have been visiting each classroom recently to talk about available health resources, including local clinics and West Contra Costa County’s mobile-testing unit.
“We just want the students to know that there is a health center here, so they can do good, so they have no worries,” said YAB member Carla Paniagua.
After the assembly, a health fair was held where students could get more information from Planned Parenthood, Y.M.C.A. and others. Students were encouraged to sign up for HIV testing for Dec. 5, when the county’s mobile-testing unit will be parked on campus all day.