By DENZEL HODGES, DARRYL A. BYNEM and KRYSTAL E. GEORGE
Author and teen-pregnancy-prevention advocate Shane Salter visited Claflin University on Oct. 22, stressing the importance of adults having conversations with young people about love, sex and relationships.
In an event sponsored by the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Charlotte, N.C., native shared his testimony in the Arthur Rose Museum in front of about 40 people. The group included social workers, guidance counselors, educators, community members and students.
Salter told his personal story. “I was a professional foster child,” he said.
With a mother age 15 and his father 16, Salter and his brother were constantly in foster homes in New York. He admits that at 16 he turned himself back into the foster system after witnessing the lifestyle of his parents.
“That was the change in my life … I realized I only had two years to benefit from the government as my parents.”
He recited an original poem, saying it captured a journey for him of wanting to be a part of a family.
One of his fondest memories is staying with a family called the Jenkinses. “For seven years in that home, I had the best clothes and resources,” Salter said.
But separation from his brother was difficult.
After being moved to separate group homes for a short period, they were reunited at a new adoption home. He had to leave but convinced the agency to let his brother stay because it would benefit him more.
Salter found out at 15 that his mother had died -- and that his father was a drug dealer as he lived with him for six months.
After watching his father exchange gunfire, he left.
“By this time I’m a professional foster child,” Salter said as he explained how difficult it was for him to find somewhere to live. He told his social worker that he was still a ward of the state and that the state had to help him.
The social worker was able to find him a group home in Queens. “And that was the change in my life,” Salter said.
Salter went on to become the valedictorian of his high school and head off to college. But he withdrew after his teenage girlfriend got pregnant.
Salter decided to secretly marry his daughter’s mother and join the Navy. He ended up getting a divorce, remarrying and having more children, two of his own and four adopted.
He and his wife thought it was important to adopt kids in the foster system.
And there was the matter of the promise to his first daughter: “You will never know the pain I knew.”
He said after his daughter’s graduation from high school, he was able to say, “I did it. I broke the cycle. I kept my promise.”
Salter said children and social workers must understand that every life is important.
“This is what the S.C. campaign is about,” Salter said.
Salter told the audience to take time to focus on what individuals and the community can do to ensure that children do not throw away their lives.
He offered quotes to inspire the youth such as “not now … it can wait,” as well as “your past does not predict your future.” Salter stressed the importance of relationships and answered questions about guiding youth.
“If you decide to give up on a client, you need to quit,” Salter said when asked a question by a social worker about working with rebellious teenagers/children. “If that kid could come back and critique what you did, would you be comfortable with that grade?”
The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s mission is to improve the health and economic wellbeing of individuals, communities and the state of South Carolina.
October’s Let’s Talk month is an initiative led by Advocates for Youth. It began in Charlotte in 1980 and is now celebrated in all 50 states. The purpose of this event is to promote effective communication between young people and adults.
The S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy will be having a greater presence in Orangeburg with the help of a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the Office of Adolescent Health, which is allowing the campaign to target not just Orangeburg County, but Aiken and Anderson counties.
The agency will be working alongside community partners that have already laid most of the groundwork, including the Orangeburg Coalition for Youth Empowerment and the Orangeburg-Calhoun-Allendale-
Bamberg Community Action Agency Inc., he said. The goal is to increase teen-pregnancy-prevention programs and services in the local area.
For more information, contact the S.C. campaign toll-free at 1-866-849-0455. For more information on parent/child communication and tips for talking about your child about love, sex and relationships, visit www.notrightnowsc.org