Much needed education is mixed with fun activities to educate and create awareness in D.C. youth.
Ticket raffles, prizes, 3-on-3 basketball and games heralded AIDS/HIV Awareness Day at the Trinidad Recreation Center in Northeast D.C. It was fun with a focus on educating D.C. youth about how their everyday choices put them at high risk for contracting HIV. The event was the brainchild of the Center for Minority Studies and co-sponsored by Ward 5 councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
“Our focus is on education and awareness of HIV,” said Keyani Dedmon, a pharmacist and active member of the center. “You would be surprised at how fast kids are growing up these days. It is as an epidemic, with black adolescents age 13 to 24 becoming the most reported HIV/AIDS cases.”
In keeping with its goal of educating and making aware, the center provided free HIV/AIDS testing to young adults who were 13 and older, without parental permission.
The Center for Minority Studies is a non-profit organization composed of clinical pharmacists dedicated to providing services to decrease the disparities of health care. Its’ mission statement is “promoting health literacy and health awareness.” The organization was started in 2002, and the AIDS/HIV awareness day was its’ premier event.
“We are all pharmacists who wanted to do health education in the community,” explained Ivan Cephas, co-founder and chief administrator of the center, and a FAMU. “Most of the staff is from schools like FAMU, Hampton and Howard because of the HBCU network.”
Other organizations that came to demonstrate support and spread their message of safer life choices for African Americans were Teens Against the Spread of AIDS, Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity, Tobacco Free Families and the School of Pharmacy at Howard University.
As a native of the District, Elysia Perez, School of Pharmacy graduate student at Howard, realized that she was not as aware as she should have been of the dangers of HIV when she was younger. “Since there is such high prevalence of the disease in D.C., there needs to be a focus on educating kids,” Perez said. “The more educated they are at a young age the least likely they are to contract AIDS.”
When asked about one thing that she learned about AIDS/HIV that she didn’t already know, Ethel Bernett, 14, shared how surprised she was to find out that it did not change the person’s outward appearance.
“I thought they would look how they normally wouldn’t look,” Bernett explained.
Her sister, Crystal Bernett, 13, learned that the virus could be spread through the practice of sharing needles.
After learning that African Americans have higher reported cases of AIDS/HIV, Calvin Franklin, 14, expressed a new need to be careful and wait until he gets older before he has sex again.
“You don’t want to catch it, don’t want to know anybody that have it,” Franklin said. “Black people catch HIV faster so it makes me want to be careful and wait.”
Tamara Foreman, co-founder and executive director of the center, was pleased with the turnout of the event.
“Just to see how much we have grown to where we are today,” Foreman, also a FAMU graduate, said. “When we first started out it was me, Ivan, and two other people. Now we have a staff, consultants and volunteers.”
As the executive director, Foreman offered advice and fine details in addition to her grand vision of how the event should turn out. Forman offered advice to others who are interested in starting their own non-profit organization: “Remember why you started. If you remember that it is to give back to your community, then all the nuts and bolts, payroll, everything will fall into place. And it never hurts to ask God to send you in the right direction.”