7:00AMJerry Campbell / Special to the GazetteTesting doesn’t hurt: Ondraya Dixon, left, of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and Danielle Royster, center, of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, volunteer to be tested publicly for HIV on Friday to encourage Kalamazoo residents and especially African-Americans to get tested. Jan de la Torre, a prevention specialist with the Community Aids Resource and Education Services center, right, hands alcohol swabs to the women.
KALAMAZOO — The Community Aids Resource and Education Services center in Kalamazoo held a symbolic public HIV testing event Friday afternoon to encourage residents, especially those in the black community, to get tested.
The event was held in association with the graduate chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Participating were members of various historically African-American college-based sisterhoods.
Ondraya Dixon, 34, a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and Danielle Royster, 39, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, tried to show how easy getting tested is.
“I think when they see people they know at church and people they see at the grocery store getting tested, some of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS testing in the black community will start to disappear,” said Zenda Thompson, president of the alumni chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho.
Dixon said she jumped at the opportunity to participate after being shocked by statistics that showed the lack of testing in the black community.
“When I first saw the numbers about the black community, they were staggering,” Dixon said. “People seem to have a fear of knowing. They just want to live life to the fullest, when they can be impacted even if they’re being careful.”
Blacks make up only 13 percent of the population nationally but account for 49 percent of HIV/Aids cases. In Kalamazoo the discrepancy is even wider — blacks make up 14 percent of the population and account for 59 percent of HIV/AIDS cases.
Thompson, and Jon Delatorre, HIV/AIDS specialist for CARES cochaired the event.
“I met Jon last summer through our Write A story Love Safe program,” Thompson said. “Jon said he wished he had us as a contact during last year’s black awareness campaign. It’s tough to reach that demographic when you don’t have anyone representing it.”
Delatorre and Thompson, with each other’s help have worked together with the sororities to produce a number of Youtube videos. The one-minute videos are aimed at educating the disproportionately affected black community about HIV/AIDS.
“This is the year we finally decided to make a big push in social media,” Delatorre said. “We’re hoping to reach more people through more outlets than before.”
Thompson agrees, but stresses the earlier someone is educated about the effects of HIV/AIDS and the measures of prevention that are available, the better the results will be.
“When people ask me what will work best I always bring it back to the children,” Thompson said. “Even if it is only my own two that I talk to, they will talk to others. And they will talk to more.”