Founder and Organizer Mentioned in “World” Magazine

Rosalita, 16, slams the door on the voices of her squabbling parents and hurries down the stairs of her apartment building. She walks down the sidewalk past the chain-link fence and opens her cellphone to call a boy: “I need to talk to you. Can I come over?”

Two months later, Rosalita finds herself fleeing class and hanging over a toilet bowl, sick. She takes a pregnancy test and then asks her boyfriend to meet her next to the Hudson River. “Hang on. That ain’t mine, yo,” he says when she tells him. “You’re getting an abortion.” When she says no, he shoves her against the fence, turns around and walks away.

The scenes are from a 19-minute film that the Washington Heights and Inwood Youth Council produced to dramatize the problem of out-of-wedlock births in their community, a largely Hispanic one with lots of poverty and 106 births per 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women. I met with council members at Washington Heights’ Manhattan Christian Academy in a room just big enough for a conference table. Dressed casually in sweatshirts and jeans, with their notebooks and fliers spread over the table and their cellphones buzzing, they told me why they chose to address teen pregnancy.


Jennifer Beltre, an 18-year-old now attending Pace University, said her cousin became pregnant at the age of 16 and had to drop out of high school: “To this day she thanks God for her baby, but it has changed her life drastically. . . . If she had the chance to rewind everything, she would do it.” Othanya Garcia, the 17-year-old president of the youth council, said her friend had sex without contraceptives, became pregnant, and then aborted the baby: “She didn’t know how to take care of herself, take care of her sex life—and she had to end the life of another child.”

Members of the Youth Council are working to alert their neighbors to the problem. They dressed guys with fake pregnant bellies to shock people into remembering that it takes two to make a baby. They went out on the streets of Washington Heights and took a community survey. People were surprised that the rate of unwed birth was so high among an ethnic group that traditionally champions marriage and family; parents were disapproving, but teenagers shrugged it off as part of everyday life. Melida Vicenty, 18, pointed to one survey question most people couldn’t answer: “What do you think will help decrease teen pregnancy?”

African-Americans such as Christelyn Karazin, author and blogger, are also searching for answers. She has started a “No Wedding, No Womb” movement that calls on women in their community to wait for marriage before they have babies. When Karazin got pregnant with her college boyfriend—a college-educated, church-going man she describes as “husband material”—he told her, “Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean I have to marry you.” He didn’t, and Karazin thought, “What have I done? I haven’t prepared a proper nest for my child. . . . My parents didn’t do that. They were ready for me. They planned for me. They were married.”

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