CHICAGO - College students Gia Davenport and Katherine Jenkins
went to Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre in downtown
Chicago on Tuesday to hear some music, gather some information
and get tested for HIV.
"You always want to know," Davenport said. "If you have the
opportunity to protect yourself and be more knowledgeable, you
should take that chance."
The women, both 21, were two of the thousands of people
nationwide who took part in the sixth annual National Black
HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day.
The awareness day campaign was launched six years ago to address
disproportionately high rates of HIV in the black community.
While blacks make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, they
are 47 percent of the 1 million Americans living with HIV,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Organizations across the country had outreach events planned
Tuesday, including a Safer Sex Comedy Show in New York City and
candlelight vigils from Florida to California.
The events are just one way HIV/AIDS service providers nationwide
have developed prevention and treatment programs specifically
tailored to reach black audiences.
In Los Angeles, the Minority AIDS Project sends its outreach
workers into universities, beauty shops, nail salons, shopping
centers, welfare offices and laundromats to bring its safe-sex
messages to black women.
"They're not going to come to you," said Carolynn Martin, program
manager for client services for the AIDS project.
The New York City-based Gay Men's Health Crisis, the country's
oldest HIV/AIDS organization, also sends its peer educators into
bars and clubs. Both organizations also have had some success
working with black churches.
The New York group has seen firsthand the changing face of the
"We started off serving white gay men, and 25 years later, over
70 percent of our clients are people of color," said Robert Bank,
the organization's associate executive director for programs and
operations. Today, its clients include children, and men and
women of all sexual orientations.
Traditional HIV prevention programs have not had much success
reaching the black community, advocates say, because blacks tend
to think of HIV as something that happens to other people.
"We believe that it belongs to gay white men," said Martin of the
Minority AIDS Project. "We don't see movies about the poor black
girl who got infected by her significant other."
That lack of awareness has meant that many people in the black
community aren't likely to get tested. According to the CDC,
one-fourth of all people with HIV nationwide don't know whether
they have it.
To encourage more widespread testing, particularly in high-risk
areas, organizations have taken to offering creative incentives.
The Minority AIDS Project gives away up to $10 in cash, grocery
and drug store vouchers, tickets to basketball games provided by
Magic Johnson, turkeys at Thanksgiving, and toys at Christmas.
In Chicago on Tuesday, participants in the national AIDS day
program were treated to a free performance by the rapper Twista.
"The incentives are the thing," said Martin of the Minority AIDS
Project. "You've got to do something to get their attention."
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National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day: