A day for HIV/AIDS education


Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

Gainesville Job Corps Center students observed National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by spreading prevention and awareness messages with dancing, poems and songs at the annual Arts Competition sponsored by Black AIDS Services and Education, or BASE.

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Joshua Stills sings during the Arts Competition sponsored by Black AIDS Services and Education.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to the Guardian

The theme of the observance, which was held last Thursday at the center, was HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, and nearly 300 students attended the event.

Students used the theme as the inspiration for their entries in the visual and performance arts categories for a chance to win cash awards of $200 for first place and $100 for second place in each category.

The message of HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness continued during an evening panel presentation titled "When Should You Not Wear a Condom?," which was also held at the center.

The first-place winner of the visual arts competition was Louella Suataron, a health occupations student and president of student government. She also was the event's mistress of ceremony. Her entry depicted two hands holding the world and included the message, "Teach the world to understand. Fight AIDS, not people with AIDS."

"As teenagers, we have the power to distribute information to young people," Louella said.

The second-place winner in visual arts was Monyssia Sands, a student in business technology whose entry depicted an angel surrounded by teens who have fallen victims to HIV/AIDS. Her piece included the message, "Believe in the dream of hope for a cure."

"I've learned a lot," Monyssia said, "and I'm being recognized for my work and effort and getting paid for something I created."

Other visual arts contestants were Cardean Smith, Shannita Powell, Basseemah Muslim and Luke Lio.

The first-place winner in the performance arts category was Joshua Stills, a student in pre-law enforcement who sang an original song titled, "Your Condition is Not Your Conclusion."

Joshua said he wants to encourage people through his music. "Whatever you're going through," Joshua said, "it's going to be alright and keep your head up."

The second-place performance art winner was Jacob Zarkie, a student in the solar panel program, who wrote an original poem titled, "Spread the Word, Not the Disease."

Other performance arts contestants included John Charles, Cordarius Blackmon and Khristopher Kaigler.

Marvene Edwards, president of Positives Empowering Positive, an HIV/AIDS support group and one of the competition judges, discusssed living with AIDS since 1987 and the stigma people with HIV/AIDS endure. She said that stigma keeps people from being tested and from getting help.

"You don't have to catch this disease," Edwards said. "Learn to protect yourself. What you do today will follow you the rest of your life."

Michael Bowie, president of BASE, offered welcoming remarks and encouraged those attending to use protection. "HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. Each and everyone has been impacted," Bowie said. "Respect yourself and protect yourself. If you don't, no one will. Respect yourself as individuals and you will succeed."

NKwanda Jah, coordinator of the observance and a member of BASE, said the winning entry in the visual arts category will be imprinted on T-shirts to be used in various BASE programs. The winning song will be used for educational programs for youth.

Jah was pleased with the turnout. "It was encouraging to bring together kids in the ages and demographics we're trying to reach," said Jah. "Our children are contracting the virus as teenagers."

Robert Davis, HIV program director at the Alachua County Health Department, said in a telephone interview that statistics show that 72 percent of the nation's young people ages 14-24 have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS.

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