Teens urged to make wise choices during annual health forum

PERRY — The reality of gangs, tobacco, alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases were presented to high school students in graphic detail Tuesday.

More than 2,400 eighth-graders from Houston County, Crawford County and Fullington Academy in Dooly County attended the 20th teen health forum at the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.

The forum was to assist the students in making healthy choices.

The students watched as Dr. Harold Katner, a professor at Mercer University and also the clinic medical director at the Hope Center in Macon, showed gruesome slides of diseased sex organs untreated with syphilis and AIDS, as well as mothers holding infants dying of AIDS.

“They need to know the reality of the disease in order to make an informed decision,” Katner said after his speech.

He realizes the slides are graphic but persisted that “it’s not some abstract thing now.”

Katner said he doesn’t want these children to make the same mistakes that others have made.

Some students found the program so distasteful they sat at the first aid station, either physically ill or emotionally distraught, for the duration of Katner’s presentation.

Katner stressed that Houston County has a lower rate of AIDS than surrounding counties and attributed that to this program.

He said he no longer is allowed to show his program in Bibb County schools because of its graphic nature.

Beth Jones, director of community service for Houston Healthcare, said Katner’s speech was the most graphic of the day.

The all-day event covered other topics including gangs and peer pressure, but the main focus was the choices students make and their consequences.

“The theme is making wise choices,” Jones said.

She said eighth grade is a transition year and a perfect opportunity to direct children before they reach high school.

Chris Musgrove, a former pastor and president of Future Now, talked about choices.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll take every road. Those roads could be drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, gangs or violence,” Musgrove said.

He said the problem isn’t the acts.

It’s that the children do not have a vision of where they want to go.

Musgrove believes “people that aren’t going anywhere don’t want you to go anywhere.”

To contact writer Angela Woolen, call 923-5650.