Raising awareness for AIDS through performance

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER

I made my way to the HUB Plaza on a gloomy Thursday evening in hopes of entertainment and a chance to expand my knowledge on the impact of AIDS on college students, including but not limited to members of the LGBT community as hosted by TruEvolution. The music from DJ Kidd echoed through the HUB, although as I approached the area, I noticed that he was alone on the stage, only earning a couple of glances from passerby as he spun his tunes in the background of students casually conversing with each other. I figured it was too early for party beats and vowed to return to the stage at a later time.

I noticed that a row of white tents were set up, stretching from Coffee Bean to the UCR sign, and out of curiousity, I decided to approach the biggest tent, which was decorated with TruEvolution signs, metal water bottles, rubber wristbands and a wide array of colorful condoms spread out on each side of the table. Those who registered for the event would be entered into a raffle for a chance to win money and iPads in addition to the free goodies that were already displayed.

Among the sparse crowd of students hesitantly grabbing condoms, I picked out Sunni Meador, community organizer for TruEvolution, to gain some more context for the AIDS Advocacy Night event. “We want to build a community particularly for LGBT youth to get help since not a lot of people know where to go (in that situation) and that a lot of people have (AIDS) around us,” she explained. By encouraging the crowd to participate and share the event, she hopes to spread awareness throughout the community at large, especially since their website has recently launched.

Groups such as FAP (Foothill AIDS Project), which handed me a condom on a Mardi Gras necklace along with the words “Wear it with pride,” IE Health, Public Health of San Bernardino County, Rainbow Youth Alliance and Operation Safehouse were present to reinforce a growth of awareness. The fact that about half of the organizations present are centered in a different county only reinforces the feeling of an ever-present community.

John Hawkins, member of Public Health San Bernardino County, strives to find those who are HIV-positive, educate them and lower HIV transmission rates. “The event will help provide them visibility and hopefully inspire them to join and get tested,” he says. Along with the organizations tabling was also a station where free HIV tests were being given to willing students, and through collective effort and education, TruEvolution will help spread awareness of the matter.

“These are physical resources that anyone can obtain,” enforces Gabby Sandoval, a staff member for TruEvolution. “Being in control of your sexual status allows for a stronger bond between you and your partner.”

I then proceeded back down to the HUB Plaza as the announcer began ushering people toward the stage for the three main events that would ensue for the night: a show of empowering spoken word by Say Word, a voguing performance by Reach LA and finally a 30-minute play by Blacmail Productions dealing with stigma and racism. She cracked a couple of jokes and proceeded to recite spoken word, drawing in more curious onlookers to her powerful voice that boomed across the plaza.

“You are the demographic! Over 4,700 people in Riverside County alone have HIV and AIDS,” she yelled, as she continued the rhythm of her poetry leading up to an announcement by Gabriel Maldonado, the head coordinator of the event. Gabriel founded TruEvolution seven years ago as a freshman at UCR, and his passion was only strengthened when he found out he was HIV-positive in 2013. He stressed the fact that HIV affects everyone, not just the LGBT community, and that it is tied to poverty, education, health coverage and even the inability to have a voice in one’s community.

Say Word began the show with an emotional bang, as each member recited her spoken word verses that all pertained to them personally. From touchy topics such as a friend committing suicide due to discrimination faced as a transgender person to identifying as Filipino-American, the speakers voiced their rhythmic thoughts in tandem or solo and continued to attract more attention to the event from those getting out of class. Finally, to close the scene, the members all gathered onstage to make a powerful statement regarding feminism.

The music picked up right after, as a dancer in a bright red-checkered button-down cape, shades and a hat strutted on the stage representing Reach LA and began voguing in sync with the upbeat music. Each dancer took turns voguing, spinning, kicking, slithering and shablamming until the very end when they all performed a set choreography to the crowd in awe.

The emcee returned and performed a couple more spoken word pieces to fill the silence as Blacmail Productions began preparing for their act, causing the anticipation for the skit to rise. The actors seemed to have made some entertaining jokes — if only they could be heard through the faulty clip-on microphones the actors had worn. But nonetheless, they did not let the malfunctioning sound system get in the way of their performance as they all stayed in character until the very end.

As the freezing crowd began to get ready to disperse from the HUB area, Gabriel left us with something to absorb: “Being an activist is to make a statement. Making a statement is showing love, and being our fierce and fabulous selves every day.”

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
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