A Boston man took to the streets of Utah this week, dressed in his signature Hawaiian shirt and armed with knowledge of AIDS.
John B. Chittick, known by many as "Dr. John," started his second worldwide walk Monday to teach teens about AIDS. His first stop was Utah.
Chittick received a doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard University in 1994. In his thesis, "Adolescents and AIDS: The Third Wave," he predicted a youth epidemic. But sitting in front of a computer screen and crunching the numbers seemed a waste of time. Chittick wanted to make a dent in those numbers.
Chittick's specialty is small groups of teens in their element, with friends they probably already talk to about the primary ways HIV is spread: sex and drugs. Chittick said talking on a personal level, not to large groups, helps to reach teens more effectively and makes them excited to spread the word to their peers.
In fact, teens guide his itinerary. When he meets them they direct him to popular hang-outs or places where AIDS education would be beneficial, he said.
The BBC calls him "larger than life," but his loud shirts and 5-foot 2-inch frame actually make him quite approachable. Monday in Utah County, Dr. John was invited to hang out with some teenagers at a skating rink.
Chittick said his approach depends on the age of the teens and the questions they ask. Monday night Chittick spoke to a group of young men in a detention center who said they were sick of hearing about AIDS. But the more he spoke with the group the more he realized they were misinformed.
Misconceptions about AIDS are present everywhere he travels, he said. The most common myth in Utah, Chittick said, is that teenagers think "I'm not vulnerable to this. The chances are like a lightning strike." But, he said, "it's not who you are, it's the behavior."
Chittick teaches that abstaining from sex and drugs is the best way to avoid exposure to HIV.
Chittick said his first stop on his global tour was Utah because the Olympics will bring thousands of young people to the area, making HIV a threat to the community.
But he has experienced a challenge in the Beehive State: getting into schools to speak to students about AIDS.
"If I had a magic wand I would wish there was not so much reluctance (by) schools and parents," he said.
Lack of adequate AIDS education allows the disease to spread, he said.Chittick will spend the week in Utah and Idaho before continuing his global walk in 45 countries.
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