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Teens tackle tough issues at St. John’s youth conference

Asaya' Pitts, a 14-year-old John Adams High School student, was one of 150 teens to attend the Dream Out Loud conference. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

Scott Fried did not have the room’s undivided attention as he told a group of teenagers his story about going to a near-stranger’s home in Manhattan 25 years ago for a hook-up.

A low din overtook the auditorium at St. John’s University as Fried described realizing he did not bring a condom with him that night but telling himself it would just be this one time.

But then he said something that brought silence to the room.

“I have HIV,” he said. “I got infected that night.”

Fried was a speaker at the Dream Out Loud youth conference held at the school, at 80-00 Utopia Pkwy., Friday. The personal and frank speech addressed one of several topics — including drug use, body issues and comprehensive sex education — the teens would encounter and explore through several workshops that day.

The conference was organized by Windows of Opportunity, based in College Point, and drew in students from across the city to tackle tough social issues teens frequently face and empower them to make healthy decisions.

About 150 students from Richmond Hill High School, John Adams HS and other schools attended the conference Friday, the first time it had been held at St. John’s.

Fried, a motivational speaker who has spoken across the globe about comprehensive sex education and his experience living with HIV, echoed many conference organizers when he said the program was needed because little time was spent educating kids about such issues at school.

“For me it’s a responsibility,” Fried said. “Somebody has to fight for their rights.”

Hal Eisenberg, executive director of Windows of Opportunity, said too often students feel they cannot turn to others with their problems, and until that changes the issues they face will persist.

“There needs to be a shift in education; the system needs to change,” he said.

Kemoy Briscoe, director of St. John’s’ Liberty Partnerships Program, which provides services for students at risk of dropping out of school, was one of those eager to have the conference come to her school.

She said she worked with Eisenberg over the summer at a workshop for middle-school students that covered topics similar to those addressed at Dream Out Loud, as well as academic issues that are the Liberty Partnerships Program’s focus. She said the experience made her determined to team up with Eisenberg to bring the conference to St. John’s.

“The kids have a lot of issues they’re dealing with,” she said, saying many of the students she works with are from families that have just immigrated to the country or where few if any members have gone on to college.

Some students at the conference said it was helpful as an outlet for expressing their thoughts and feelings.

“They actually listened to me,” said 14-year-old John Adams High School student Asya’ Pitts, sounding amazed.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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