“FREE CONDOMS!” Shouts Jerome. “FREE LUBE, FREE DENTAL DAMS, FREE FEMALE CONDOMS!” He continues as a flock of young people empties his hands of the contraceptives. Most people are hesitant to take free condoms and lube from a strange teenager on North State Street, but those who do aren’t just helping themselves, but a whole movement.
The movement came to a bit of a halt, as a man claiming to be a police officer threatened to get a group of about eight of us thrown in jail, for not having a permit to give out free condoms on the street.
I knew I would be in for a treat when I met Jerome, after he first introduced himself to me on Facebook with less of an about me and more of an about condoms introduction. “I have about 500 male and female condoms that I’m bringing with me to Chicago…(not for my own personal use of course, but to give away to students who need them),” Now of course he also told my other roommate and I about his love for Kid Cudi, but the condoms were all that I got out of his message. So why is an 18 year-old SAIC student giving out 500 condoms every chance he gets? Simple, Jerome works with a multitude of non-profit organizations that promote safe sex and teen pregnancy prevention, the largest of which is Advocates for Youth.
I had to know why Jerome was so involved with these programs and as soon as he responded, “There’s a stipend of a $100 dollars a month, man, haha” I wanted in on it too. Of course my reason was more for the money, Jerome went on to say that, “I started out for the money, but then as I got more into the program I learned that the movement [for safe sex education] was really needed especially in the South, where some of the highest rates of teen pregnancies across America are present.”
After a lot of talk about condoms, some late night homework and some more safe sex discussion I convinced him to talk a midnight trek with me to Taco Bell. As we walked at a brisk pace to make get to our destination before they closed, I questioned on. I tried my best to refrain from more questions about condoms, so I asked him if he could describe his exuberant clothing style (without using exuberant), he replied, “Colorful, hipster and Urban Outfitters.” I quickly responded with, “Urban Outfitters and hipster is the same thing though,” only to receive a irritated, “Douche bag. They’re not the same. No.” I guess he knows better then me since he used to work at the Urban Outfitters in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
“There’s no way were getting there before they close,” a concerned and cold Jerome exclaimed to me as we approached a blocked off street. “We’ll just take a right, then a left, then another left and will be fine, don’t worry, Jerome.” I tried to get a little deeper with my questions trying to uncover the juicy stuff. I went with, “Jerome, can you tell me you’re coming out story?” with a bit of hesitation and a giggle he agreed. “So when I was still questioning my sexuality and didn’t really know any gay men, I started posting ads on craigslist.” I braced for the most ridiculous story and it was a good thing I did. “I would post those m4m personal ads, with just a simple about me, a picture of me and a picture of my penis.” This is when he really started to smile and laugh, once he collected himself he kept up and this came out (no pun intended), “I was going into my Junior year of high school when I was doing it, and cops constantly monitor those posts so no minors post and nothing bad happens. So the cop that stumbled upon my posts was a friend of my mom’s and he printed everything out, showed it to her and that’s how I came out to my mom and then everyone else.” I paused in amazement because that was the best coming out story I had ever heard, and then laughed a bit. We trekked forward.
I asked him what the best condom distribution experience he had was and he responded, “Every time a young couple takes them, because I know they’re going to be safe, and that’s exactly what our mission is.” He says, “The time that police officer or whatever he was told us to move, that was bullshit, it’s not illegal to hand out condoms in Chicago or even Illinois, it was just bullshit.” As we arrived at our destination I asked him if he would have done anything differently he replied, “I did what I had to do, facing a possible arrest and the possibility of losing my SAIC scholarship, I did what I had to do, but I wish I would’ve stayed.”
After a meal of Taco Bell for me and Popeyes for Jerome we headed back to the dorms. When we got to our room it was no less then five minutes that a group of guys knocked on the door and asked for condoms. The sign on our dorm for free condoms attracts a lot of late night attention. They came in and snagged a handful each. I asked them what they thought about Jerome’s distribution and they all had positive replies.
“Man, condoms are way to expensive, so this is awesome!”
“You gotta protect yourself!”
A Lil Wayne quote was blurted out too, “Safe sex is great sex, better wear a latex, cause you don’t want that late text, that I think I’m late text.”
Since it was already passed 1 a.m. I threw a few more questions at him, Jerome’s dream job is to be a advertising designer and he hopes the Visual Communications program here at SAIC will help him reach his goal. My final question was, “How is it being a gay black man in today’s society?” Jerome gave me a two part response: “It’s better being a gay black man now, we’ve made strides as a community to overcome HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it can get better, but I am a proud gay black man, but that’s not all that I am.”
Jerome is a man beyond the free condoms that he is known for; he is an artist, an avid Kid Cudi fan and an awesome roommate and friend.