July 14, 2006
At In the Cut barbershop, 1325 E. Livingston Ave. in Columbus, barbers and customers cracked jokes during a recent discussion about safe sex. But the laughter quickly faded once Preston F. Mitchell II of the Tobias Project told them more than half of all new HIV infections among women affect black women. And at a screening his organization sponsored two years ago, 10 youths under age 18 tested HIV-positive, Mitchell told them. "It's getting real out here, brothers," he said.
The Tobias Project aims to address the problem of HIV/AIDS among blacks. AIDS educators working with the group are targeting barbershops to get the message out. Using CDC's "popular-opinion leader" model, barbers are being tapped to pass along accurate HIV/AIDS information, said Mitchell. "If you believe that safe sex will stop the spread of HIV, then your customers will, too," Mitchell tells the barbers.
Since January, barbers at five city shops have received five training sessions to help them bring up risk-reduction methods. The training allows the barbers to address common myths and share stark truths: AIDS is not just a gay white man's disease; pretty women can be HIV-infected; protection should be used for every sex act; and AIDS is not just an African problem. Condoms and testing information are handed out along to patrons.
Mitchell said the effort is paying off. "We have people come in to test, and they get the information from the barbershops. We have the barbershops call us and say, 'Hey, we need condoms,'" he said.
Bobby LaVette, co-manager of First Impressions barbershop, said, "We talk to kids in a way so they are more receptive," he said. "That makes them listen, hearing something they never heard."