Michigan

World AIDS Day Detroit Engages Youth

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

More than 400 Detroit-area students attended the World AIDS Day Detroit Youth Symposium on Dec. 1 at the Garden Theater in Detroit.

The purpose was to engage youth in a dialogue about issues related to HIV/AIDS including stigma and discrimination, testing/PrEP and transgender health.

"Find yourself, find your community and find your voice," said 18-year-old HIV activist Ashley Rose Murphy, who spoke during the event about the importance of accepting herself. Born to an HIV-positive mother, she was expected to live only a few months when she was adopted.

By doing so, Murphy said she is "well on her way to shattering boxes people put themselves in and embracing her inner 'odd man out.'"

Now, the high schooler from Toronto is an ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and works to raise awareness about HIV, especially among her peers.

Murphy said she understands what it feels like to be the "only one trying to fit in, blend in and hope no one notices that you're different."

WADD board president and found Phil Kucab explained the importance of World AIDS Day, pointing to the "remarkable stories of community that we have in our history ... We have come so far, standing on the shoulders of so many giants. We honor the people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS by coming here today."

Detroit-area mayors, elected officials, community-based organizations and university and business leaders were in attendance earlier on Dec. 1 at the WADD Giving Breakfast to hear a keynote address from the Deputy Director of the Detroit Health Department, Leseliey Welch, MPH, and Dr. Richard Baker, Vice Dean of Medical Education at the WSU School of Medicine.

Ryan White's mother Jeanne White-Ginder also attended to offer a powerful reminder of the obstacles faced by those living with HIV in the past, and the work the community still needs to do in order to achieve an AIDS-Free Generation. Ryan's struggle to be accepted by his community still resonates today, as many people living with HIV/AIDS face stigma and discrimination based on their diagnosis.

Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act in 1990, four months after his death, to provide access to medicine and treatment for Americans impacted by HIV/AIDS. There are approximately 40 AIDS service organizations in the state of Michigan. This year's WADD event was produced in collaboration with a number of AIDS Service Organizations in the area including Gilead Sciences, Matrix MAC Health, Results, HELP (Health Emergency Lifeline Programs, Black Nurses Rock Detroit Chapter, Unified HIV Health and Beyond, the City of Detroit Health Department's Ryan White Program, and SEMHAC (Southeastern Michigan HIV/AIDS Council).

The day wrapped up with WADD's Winter Wonderland fundraiser where "American Idol" Season 14 Finalist Rayvon Owen, the Detroit Children's Choir, and Patrick Fitzgibbon and Steel Sound performed. In addition, this year was WADD's soft launch of their evening silent auction. A variety of holiday wreaths were designed by community members, partners and WADD's corporate sponsors.

"It was fairly successful. We were able to auction off a total of 12 wreaths, and we are hoping to grow our evening event next year," said Maxwell Cameron, executive director of WADD.

"In terms of the whole event, we were very pleased with the outcomes," he said. "We have over 1,000 people participate in our events. Our youth symposium in particular was phenomenal ... Overall, it was a great success and we can't wait for WADD 2017."

For more information about WADD, visit their website.

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