R&B artist visits PACE

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 3:40 p.m.
Students who attend the Alachua County PACE Center for Girls were all giggles and smiles Friday when they received a surprise visit from a nationally known teen R&B recording artist.
Sammie Bush, 18, known in the record industry only as "Sammie," showed up at the center with representatives from BET's Rap-It-Up campaign to talk privately with the girls about things that are affecting teens in today's society.
Rap-It-Up is a grassroots initiative to inform young people about sexual health issues, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The informal session began with Vikki Johnson, BET's public affairs manager, addressing the girls.
"Today is a really significant day for you," she said. "There is a lesson in this moment. No matter what got you where you are today, wonderful things can still happen for you. Wonderful things can still happen to you, no matter what situation you are in."
"I'm here to give words of encouragement to you," said Sammie, who lives in Atlanta now, but used to live in South Florida when his first hit, "I Like It," came out seven years ago on Capitol Records. The single and the album, "From the Bottom to the Top," went platinum.
He released his second album, "Sammie," last year, and also collaborated last year with Sean P. and Youngbloodz on "You Should Be My Girl." His latest single, "Come With Me," was just released this year.
"Everybody has a struggle, but you still have to find a way to smile," said Sammie, adding that his life is full of ups and downs just like everybody else.
He told the girls that he had an uncle to die from AIDS a couple of years ago, and that he has two relatives now living with the virus.
"You must understand that sex is just not physical, it is mental as well," he said. He went on to say that just being able to talk to the girls and possibly help one of them figure out the answer to a problem is worth more than silver or gold.
"This is like the biggest payback I can get, even more than money," Sammie said. "Just being able to come in here, and just be embraced by you all."
He told the girls to hold themselves to a higher standard than what they see on television, especially on hip-hop videos. He said he doesn't condone the use of the ''B word'' when referring to women, and that he thinks there is too much derogatory language in music in general.
"I'm representing the good guys," he said.
He told the girls he never had unprotected sex, and that he didn't succumb to peer pressure when he was in high school to have sex.
"Just be smart when it comes to sharing yourself with somebody," he said, adding that he gets tested for HIV/AIDS every six months. "Be safe if you are having sex, and the best way to avoid getting a disease is to abstain."
He went on to say that a lot of artists don't take the influence they have and do positive things with it.
"I want to be that little voice in your ear when you are in certain situations," he said. "The bottom line is, respect yourself."
Johnson, the public affairs manager, said she felt it was important to come to Gainesville with the Rap-It-Up campaign after being contacted by Teresa Parker, the area's regional minority AIDS coordinator.
"We meet people where they are," said Johnson, a 1983 graduate of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, adding that the Kaiser Family Foundation is their major partner. "I have a commitment to this state. Florida has eight of the top 25 cities in the nation with people living with AIDS. Teresa called me and told me that she would do whatever she needed to do to get us down here."
She said Gainesville was the first city that they ever brought in a celebrity to speak privately with teens. Sammie also met with students at Lincoln Middle School.
"Our commitment is to make a difference," Johnson said.
Sammie told the Guardian he enjoyed his moment with the girls.
"We're just here to give words of encouragement to the young ladies," he said. "I just want them to feel better about themselves. I appreciate the love they gave me."
"I liked it a lot," said 19-year-old Caryn Leslie, a program aide at the center. "He came here for a good reason. I felt like it touched our girls a lot in a positive way. He was just being real with us."
Yasmin Jackson said it was good getting information from somebody close to her age.
"He was talking from another kid's perspective," said Jackson, 12. "He is in the same situation we are in, and I like the fact he talked to us about AIDS and getting tested."

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