Memphis is in the midst of a pregnancy crisis. At one city school—Frayser High—about 18 percent of female students are expecting or have recently given birth. There, the pregnancy rate is a whopping 26 percent, and in Memphis generally the teen pregnancy rate ranges from 15 to 20 percent—nearly double the U.S. average.
Now, the astronomically high pregnancy rate in majority black Shelby County, which includes Memphis, has sparked public outcry as well as an initiative called "No Baby!" run by Girls Inc. For decades, Girls Inc. has aimed to help Memphis girls improve their self-esteem. But its "No Baby!" campaign—slated to kick off Jan. 20—may do little to curb the high teen pregnancy in the Memphis area. Why? Because the campaign promotes abstinence only, according to AOL's Black Voices.
Moreover, "No Baby!" won't provide contraceptives to girls "but will give teens the proper tools on how to protect themselves should they decide to engage in sexual relations," Black Voices reports.
But if the initiative is focused mostly on abstinence, will the information teen girls receive on avoiding pregnancy be limited? That's my fear. It's also troublesome that girls won't receive contraceptives such as condoms considering that at now notorious Frayser High, nearly 100 percent of students qualify for free lunches. In other words, these kids are poor. They likely have no spare cash to spend on contraception.
If the Memphis community is really serious about curbing the high pregnancy rate, it needs to face reality. And the reality is that the teens there are having sex without taking steps to avoid pregnancy. That being the case, how is the launch of a program that encourages abstinence only and offers no contraception to poor teens going to help matters?
When Terrika Sutton, a Frayser High student who recently gave birth, was asked what should be done to combat teen pregnancy at the school, she said, "They need a class where they can teach girls before they get pregnant to use protection and stuff..."
A common misperception about communities of color is that attitudes towards sexuality are relaxed, when, in fact, they're fairly conservative. Girls in these communities typically receive an abstinence-only message from their parents and other elders. Conversations about birth control methods between youths and their parents are all too frequently nonexistent. That's why an initiative to prevent pregnancy must do more than repeat a "no sex" message.