Four girls stood in the front of the room chanting, “I am brilliant, I am beautiful, I am curvaceous and I am bodacious.” The room was filled with eager and motivated young women. Music was blasting, girls were standing in line waiting to get their hair styled and makeup applied.
The place was overflowing with positive energy. Yet the issue that brought them together was a somber one: HIV/AIDS. Spreading awareness of AIDS/HIV and providing insight on this issue was the goal of the annual AIDS awareness seminar at 1401 S. Sacramento Ave. on Dec. 4, hosted by Jaz Ellison, executive director for the nonprofit organization The Healing Tree, which educates young women about HIV and AIDs.
The event offered confidential HIV testing, music by Chicago’s tightest female DJ Sundance and DJ K Vee and guest speakers including North Lawndale resident Dahde Williams and Human Capital adviser Chevelle Bailey. Makeup artist Tiffany Brown and hairstylist LaCreasha Key from Sunny’s Salon made the attendees look and feel beautiful. Volunteers from City Year and the event planning firm Bright I Event also participated.
“This event was beneficial because girls this age don’t think they need to be tested, the on-site testing was a good idea,” said Brown. “Many of these girls come from low-income families; they don’t have the opportunity to get pampered.”
Trying to get the message out and trying to instill courage into the girls were both major aims of the event, according to Williams. “You have to love yourself, get rid of those haters stopping you from achieving what you are supposed to achieve,” she said.
“This is important, it empowers them. I think they got the message,” said Nicole Lewis, a City Year volunteer.
Despite many awareness-raising events like this one, HIV/AIDS continues to heavily impact our communities. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, African-Americans accounted for 53 percent of all new diagnoses of HIV in the state between 2000-2009. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 4 percent of diagnoses are in the age 13-19 category. This shows that educating youth about HIV is crucial. We need more leaders in our community to stand up and help educate our future leaders about this deadly virus so we can stop it before it destroys their futures and communities.