Photo by Dawane L. Cromwell
Andrea Walker lost her mother to HIV complications when she was 22 years old. However, it wasn’t until she was 19 that she was fully educated about the disease and its effects.
“I really never knew what the extent of what her sickness was,” said Walker. “As I got older, and when I became sexually active, I was very paranoid.”
Intelligently Redefining Our Culture (iROC), founded by Walker, and We Do Big Things partnered to create the Know Your Status Campaign to help young people avoid this confusion and be proactive about their health.
The two-part event on June 27 began at 10 a.m. as volunteers spread out on the intersection of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue to offer free HIV testing. Individuals were brought to Temple University’s Liacouras Center and tested in 60 seconds. Results were available within five minutes.
“Philly has a higher HIV transmission rate than the national average,” said John Turner, founder of We Do Big Things. “Once you know your status people are obligated to protect themselves and those around them.”
iROC’s mission is to stress the importance of empowerment through youth education with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS outreach. We Do Big Things offers services and mentorship to Philadelphia youth to help them avoid crime and obtain a college degree.
Those tested ranged from non-students to fraternity brothers.
“I’m a Biology major, so I’m conscious of everything,” said Jason Obiaker, 22, after getting his results. “I’d rather know than not know.”
Testing a Tough Sell for Youth
However, not everyone is as open to testing. Turner found that many rejected the invitation or asked what was in it for them. They expected a giveaway, Turned added, as many other free testing services offer.
“It’s a really taboo topic,” said volunteer Daniel Chery. “You have to get the right person and engage them and convince them to get tested.”
Princess Graham, program coordinator for Temple’s Comprehensive HIV program, was on site testing people and saw the nervousness and reluctance to get tested firsthand.
“People are nervous,” said Graham. “I’m surprised that there are still people today that haven’t gotten tested before.”
Graham said she believes the number of young people testing positive is due to fear and stigma.
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“The later you find out you’re positive the more possible medication you will have to get and there’s more of a chance that the person has already entered the AIDS stages,” she said.
Many of the walk-ins were college students, but the Know Your Status Campaign also set a goal to reach young people not attending Temple University, such as Wanesia Burch.
“I have three children and I heard the faster you get tested the easier you can control it if you have the disease,” said Burch, 29, after getting tested.
Still, the initiative did not meets its goals to test non-students.
The city health department donated 2,000 condoms. Temple University’s Office of Wellness and Health donated 50 safe sex packets with HIV/AIDS informational flyers and male/female condoms to the initiative.
After three hours, 60 people were tested, including a number of freshmen during their orientation. By the summer of 2015, iROC and We Do Big Things plan to insert the Know Your Status Campaign into each charter school in Philadelphia while offering onsite testing to youth ages 12 and over.
Christell Boyd-Abner, 25, volunteer for We Do Big Things, said that education is crucial in prevention and treatment.
“If they feel empowered and educated,” she said.“That makes all the difference.”-30-
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