There’s a silent epidemic devastating millions of lives across the country and, even worse, it will destroy millions more in years to come.
Since the first case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) broke out in the early 1980s, AIDS has claimed the lives of 23 million men, women and children worldwide. Over the next 20 years, an estimated 70 million people will die from AIDS. In spite of such alarming predictions, it seems as though some Americans and people around the world fail to acknowledge the severity and the imminent danger of this disease.
To help stimulate a change and bring awareness to students of the College, the Black Student Union (BSU) will sponsor its first AIDS Awareness Week from March 21-25.
“BSU’s main objective for sponsoring this event is to not only make people aware but also to aid in preventing future cases of the virus,” Brittany Horne, the vice president of student affairs for BSU, said.
To kick off AIDS Week on March 21, about 30 students from Snyder High School in Jersey City will present several workshops. Later that night, the movie “And the Band Played On” will be shown in the Allen Drawing Room. The movie chronicles the discovery of the AIDS virus, beginning with San Francisco gay men dying from an unknown cause and leading to the eventual identification of the HIV virus.
On March 22, the Hamilton Health Department will offer free HIV testing in room 158 of Eickhoff Hall all day. Students will receive the results within 20 minutes.
That night, there will be a drag queen show in room 134 of Forcina Hall from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“The show is co-sponsored by the Gay Union of Trenton State (GUTS) and will have somewhat of a fashion show type feel to it,” Horne said.
On Wednesday, March 23, the movie “Gia” will be shown at 9 p.m. in the George Jackson Center. The movie depicts the tragic downfall of a drug-addicted supermodel dying of AIDS. Moreover, on that same day, the College will host a talk by J.L. King, author of the renowned book “On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of ‘Straight Black Men’ who sleep with Men.”
With his ground-breaking and controversial book, J.L. King brought to the forefront a secret trend among men commonly referred to as “living on the ‘down low (DL)”. The term “DL” describes married men or men in relationships with females engaging in a secret sexual relationship with
other men. According to King’s book, this treacherous lifestyle seems to be popular primarily among African-American men. In the eyes of most African-American men, homosexuality is seen as a “white man thing” or as something that suggests weakness.
Either way, it is something that not only contradicts the perception that society has created for the black man, but also the perception that black men have created for themselves. Society often projects the stereotype of black men as fierce and strong; as a result, African-American males would rather deny their homosexuality or their desire to have sex with other males, than accept it and appear weak. It is this denial that leads men into this double life.
Studies that support King’s theory of the “DL” also show that black men living this secret life have caused a drastic rise in the number of African-American females with the virus. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, 67 percent of black women with HIV contracted it from heterosexual sex.
Furthermore, a recent survey on the U.S. population’s health indicates that HIV infections among African Americans have doubled in the last decade, but have remained the same among whites.
“It disheartened me that the AIDS virus has increased so much among those of (the) black community,” Horne said. “It’s one of the main reasons why I, as well as the BSU, want to take a stand against the virus. We want this week to reach out to everyone, not just the minorities on campus.”
On Thursday, March 24, there will be a panel at 8 p.m. in Eickhoff Hall. The event will host health professionals such as nurses, educators and Tangy Major, a young woman living with the AIDS virus. Meanwhile, directly following a BSU meeting, the movie “Philadelphia” will be shown. “Philadelphia” depicts the discrimination in the workplace that a gay man dying of AIDS struggles to fight.
AIDS Awarenenss Week will come to an end on Friday, March 25 with a party in the atrium of the Student Center. It will feature performances by the Gospel Choir Ministries and FLOW, the College’s hip-hop dance team, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Following the celebration in the Student Center, there will be a party in the Cromwell Main Lounge, in which students will have the opportunity to gather and reflect on the events of the past week.
Friday will also bring the revelation of the AIDS quilt. From March 15-18 and 21-23, BSU will sell AIDS patches to the public. Students can buy an individual patch and design it themselves for $5 or they can purchase and design an organization patch for $7 dollars. Proceeds from the patches will be donated to the Dooley House of Camden, which is a home for children living with the AIDS virus.
Information from aids.com, cdc.gov and washingtonpost.com.