MBMI, Zeta Phi Beta raise awareness with Black AIDS Day

The organizations hosted multiple events Tuesday.

In light of the phrase "Knowledge is key," the Mizzou Black Men's Initiative and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. set out to educate students about sexually transmitted diseases.

In honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday, these two organizations partnered for the second year to host Black AIDS Day 2012, a day of events designed to raise awareness of the issue.

"It's a very important conversation that needs to be had, especially amongst college students, because a lot of times, (people think) college students are the fearless, invincible ones on the planet, and nothing's going to happen to us," MBMI coordinator Marcus Mayes said. "But that's not the case. We still have to be responsible and make good choices."

Each of the four events involved the greater than sign as a result of working with the Greater Than AIDS movement.

"They provided us with a lot of educational materials — stickers, buttons, wristbands," Marcus said. "But just in reviewing everything that they're doing, it really seemed like a perfect fit to adopt some of their things and utilize them to promote awareness."

During "Knowledge > Ignorance," students passed out information from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the MU Student Center. Around noon, some students performed in a vocal and visual demonstration, projecting facts about HIV/AIDS and forming a human greater than sign.

"Everybody enjoyed it," Mayes said. "Actually, a lot of people who saw it ended up coming up to the table to find out more information about what we were doing and getting tested."

"Knowing > Never" occurred simultaneously on the second floor of the student center. The organizations worked with Rain of Central Missouri and the Columbia Health Department to provide free HIV testing. A total of 103 people were tested, surpassing the goal of 75.

MBMI Membership Committee member Donald Gilliam, who got tested Tuesday, said he thinks it's important for people to undergo HIV testing to know their status. He also said he doesn't think people realize how confidential the testing process is.

"People may know that you went if you wore the button afterward or have the band-aid, but it's really personal and individual," Gilliam said. "I know a lot of people don't want to go because (they think) it's out in the open, but it was really private."

"Speaking > Silence," held at 7 p.m. in the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, featured a discussion with guest speaker Jannis Evans, African-American HIV/AIDS emergency response coordinator for the Department of Health and Senior Services.

"It was very enlightening and just makes you take a step back and think a little bit more about the epidemic and how it's affecting not only people worldwide, but in the states," Mayes said.

The final event, "United > Divided" was supposed to be a candlelight vigil to remember those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS, but it was canceled due to inclement weather. Attendees instead had a moment of silence inside the center immediately following "Speaking > Silence."

Mayes said he thinks HIV/AIDS is a topic that needs to be brought to attention.

"When you think about HIV/AIDS, the first thing you think is Africa or places overseas, but it's growing rapidly here in the states," Mayes said. "It's not going away, so just being able to get educated and get reminded about things like that, I feel, are important."

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