February 14, 2010
More than 70 student leaders from 22 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) gathered on the campus of Clark Atlanta University for the 2010 LIFEAIDS (Leaders in the Fight to Eradicate AIDS) Black Student Mobilization Summit. The Summit, held in conjunction with the ACT Against AIDS Initiative, provided the students with an interactive learning experience where they could gain knowledge, identify challenges and resources, and make commitments to promote HIV awareness, prevention, testing, treatment, and fight stigma -- but most of all, end the AIDS epidemic.
The weekend kicked off with dinner and an open mic, where students performed poetry, songs and other pieces. Friday night's festivities also included a film festival and discussion of three short films centered on HIV from the Black AIDS Short Subject Film competition. The films covered a variety of themes including HIV and the church, stigma, HIV testing, and HIV and women.
Even though many of the students had not taken an HIV test, most were well acquainted with the notion of getting tested. A junior from Howard University, Nijeul Porter confessed that Howard does a great job of offering HIV testing. "I can see the testing trucks in my head right now," he said shaking his head, disappointed with himself, "this was a reality check." Nijeul is not the only one who had assumed that he was immune to HIV. Many students realized that they need to take a blunt "in your face" approach to spreading the word on campus that Black youth are contracting the virus in large numbers. In 2006, Black youth made up nearly 70 percent of new AIDS diagnosis among teens in the U.S.
On Saturday facilitators conducted workshops on Social Networking and HIV 101, where students learned the difference between HIV and AIDS, and the four fluids -- blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk -- by which an individual can contract HIV. In a second workshop, Fact vs. Fiction, students were reassured that kissing does not transmit the virus except under extreme circumstances, like when there are open sores in the infected person's mouth and blood is present.
Students were also given opportunities to voice their opinions on stigma, policy and possible vaccines like PEP and PREP. Students also talked about their own initiatives for HIV prevention. Nicole Carter, an RA at Benedict College, acknowledged that condoms aren't allowed in the dorms and neither is visitation. She admits to keeping a stash for students on her hall because "I'd rather [students] get caught being safe then to get 'caught' being unsafe and get 'caught' twice."
Community activist Marvelyn Brown and the Beyond the Diagnosis skits forced students to re-think their behavior and encourage others to do the same. Celeste Davis from University of Arkansas Pine Bluff calls the weekend "the ultimate gift."
On Sunday morning the students participated in workshops on working with the media and starting and organizing an HIV/AIDS event on their campuses. Each student group presented their plans for raising HIV/AIDS awareness at their school. The summit concluded with each individual making a personal commitment to take specific action before the end of the semester to help end the AIDS epidemic in their community.
LIFEAIDS is an initiative sponsored by the Black AIDS Institute and The Magic Johnson Foundation in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control and the Act Against AIDS campaign. For more information on the LIFEAIDS initiative contact Lenee Richards at Leneer@BlackAIDS.org or (213) 353-3610.