Go-Go With a Purpose

Metro TeenAIDS Encourages Young Adults to Get Tested for HIV

In an atmosphere that promoted fun and awareness, teenagers across the District attended the Metro TeenAIDS (MTA) “Get Tested with Go-Go” event Dec. 5.

The free event was an annual commencement for World AIDS Day, as well as a platform to inform black youth about the importance of being tested for HIV. Held at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast D.C., teenagers were encouraged to learn the facts about HIV/AIDS and also to find out their HIV status.

Like any Go-Go concert, the recreation center was filled with ground-shaking percussions. Teenagers dressed in their most stylish and colorful gear performed call-and-response chants with the numerous bands of the night. “Oh, oh, oh,” was one chant heard throughout the night. It was no surprise that the music could be heard across the street from the recreation center. The audience was hyped, and this time, it was for a meaningful cause.

“Go-Go music has always had a bad rap in the media,” said Adam Tenner, executive director of MTA. “We wanted to change the perception of the genre by hosting these kinds of events where teenagers can learn something. Tonight, Go-Go music is helping us remove the barriers about HIV testing.”

The barriers, according to Tenner, are excuses that young people use as way not to get tested for HIV. He said most young people claim that they are scared of needles, that HIV testing costs too much money and that by getting tested, other people will learn their personal business. To counteract these claims, MTA provided free and painless HIV testing, one-on-one HIV workshops and HIV care advocacy that were all held in private rooms. Instead of having to draw blood, attendees were able to have their cheeks swabbed during tests. Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 were strongly encouraged to get tested at the event. According to MTA, 13 to 24-year-olds are the individuals who are being heavily affected by the epidemic in the District.

“This way every young person has access to information on HIV,” Tenner said. “I’m tired of it being a have or have-not situation when it comes to access for HIV info.”

“There was a time when people were scared to have kids tested at this age, but now people’s attitudes are changing,” Shannon Hader, director of the HIV/AIDS administration for the D.C. Department of Health, said. “A year ago, we weren’t even having these events in parks and recreation centers, so we have come a long way.”

The event featured four Go-Go bands, food catered by DC On the Fly, various prizes and an address from 2009 Miss Black D.C., Breyuna Williams.The pageant winner and 2005 Howard University Law School graduate spoke to the teenagers about knowing their HIV status and why making responsible decisions is so important. She also encouraged the young listeners to choose abstinence as a way to avoid an HIV scare.

“HIV awareness and prevention is part of my of platform,” she said. “This is the age group mostly affected by the disease. I felt is was important to talk to them about the importance of getting tested. I want them to walk away with an understanding that they must make responsible decisions.”

Some adults attended the event as way of support for teenagers unsure about the tests, and even made sure they were seen by the youths waiting in line to get tested. Regional Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreations, Maria Barner was one of those adults.

“I’ve already been tested for HIV, but I wanted the kids to see me get tested so they wouldn’t be so nervous,” she said. “I wanted to let them know it was OK for them to get tested in this kind of setting.”

Although many teenagers did not have the support of a parent present while they were being tested, they had the support of MTA’s clinical director and care advocates.

Anne Wiseman, clinical director for MTA and testing administrator for the event said, “I’m here to support these kids regardless of the result. If their test comes out positive, I will even go home with them to break the news to their parents. They need to know that we are here for them”.Care advocate, Arnita Wilson, 31, says she goes the distance to support the teenagers being tested. No matter the outcome, Wilson says she is there help.

“Because I am HIV positive myself, I know what these kids are going through,” Wilson said. “I know I can walk them through the entire process because I’ve been in their shoes. If they need me to, I’ll even take them grocery shopping.” As if to solidify her commitment to youth, she interrupted her sentence to convince a hesitant 16-year-old girl to get tested.

“It will only take 10 minutes of your time,” she said. “I know you just got out of school, but trust me it will only take 10 minutes. Believe me, knowing your status is worth 10 minutes.”

Outside of the gymnasium where the Go-Go bands entertained the crowd, local college students and MTA’s young peer educators handed out condoms and information kits. They also personally urged the young people that entered the recreation center to get tested for HIV.

“The young people tonight were really receptive,” said George Washington University Masters of Public Health candidate Jana Baldwin. “They were taking the condoms and pamphlets without any embarrassment. It went well despite the few parents who turned their noses up at us for giving their kids condoms.”

Peer educator, Renesha Sizer, 16, encouraged many of her friends and classmates to come to the event. The Southeast native said she reached out to people on her MySpace page urging them to get tested.

“They need to know that a lot of people are dying from the virus,” she said. “I made sure that I was tested tonight. One of my friends has been tested here tonight as well; hopefully more of my friends will do the same.”

At the end of the night, MTA staff members were just happy that they were able to encourage young people to get tested at the event, no matter the turnout.

“Tonight was an absolute success,” said MTA marketing and communications director, Neema Enriquez. “Last year we had a turnout of 80 kids, tonight we had well over 100.

“We are just glad that we were able to get our message out. It is important that young people know their HIV status. The great thing was that they were able to learn and have fun. That was the important part.