This Saturday at Ridglea Theater, Black Tie Dynasty, PPT, The Burning Hotels, and the cut*off, among others, are performing a benefit concert put on by SPEAK Project, a brand-new ad hoc nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness of sexually transmitted diseases among young people.
After a spike of reported cases among 15-to-24-year-olds in the late ’90s, reported cases leveled off in 2000 but haven’t gone down. In Texas in 2005, according to the most recent public health data, about 53,000 new cases of chlamydia were reported among people aged 15 to 24, accounting for nearly 75 percent of all reported cases. In the Fort Worth-Dallas area, nearly 30,000 cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia were reported, and of that number, more than 22,000 were in the 15-24 age group.
One of the main culprits, according to Kevin Ryan, an outreach specialist for Tarrant County Mental Health Mental Retardation, is a laissez-faire attitude toward long-term health problems. Young people he’s met, he said, “aren’t shy of being on [antibiotics] for gonorrhea or chlamydia.” Misconceptions – and the stark numbers of reported cases – moved Ryan to begin exploring various local outreach options. The one that stuck was “a health fair disguised as a concert.”
The project began to take shape in June, when he mentioned to a friend, Amber Singleton, his interest in doing an STD awareness project. Singleton mentioned the idea to her friend, Black Tie frontman Cory Watson, who “loved it,” Ryan said. The rest of the line-up fell into place – Black Tie and PPT share the same record label, Dallas’ Idol Records, and the Hotels are one of the best bands in town. All of the acts are donating their time. “We’ve had to turn bands away,” said Ryan, who noted that he wasn’t prepared to handle an all-out festival, even though, he said, the folks at the Ridglea have been “amazing” to work with. Already, Ryan has been approached by people in Dallas and Denton who are interested in working with SPEAK. He also hasn’t had much problem getting commercial support.
The international giant Starbucks is one of his mega-donors. Other backers include the Recovery Resource Council, the county’s public health department, and Fort Worth’s outreach team on substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. With the help of about 25 to 30 fellow MHMR outreach workers and volunteers, Ryan hopes to encourage concertgoers to take anonymous risk assessments in return for giveaways. The event, he said, will be as non-political as possible. “We won’t be handing out condoms or anything,” said Ryan, a recovering addict who had worked with substance abusers for three years before joining MHMR’s outreach program in May. He and his colleagues, who cover Tarrant County and about a dozen smaller counties nearby, normally work in the homeless community and with sex workers.
But middle-class families, he believes, are also severely affected by STDs among young people. For the all-ages show, Ryan expects a turnout of about 300. “I checked, and no one’s really doing anything similar,” he said. “There are health fairs but no [face-to-face] events,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it grassroots,” which explains the preponderance of Fort Worth acts. “Dallas gets everything,” he said. “We have nothing of our own.”
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