By Imani Williams
DETROIT – ‘Rock the Park Jam’ was going down, rain or shine, on Belle Isle as Horizon’s Project stepped up to reach youth on National HIV Testing Day, June 27.
As HIV/AIDS rates continue to rise among African-American youth, grass roots organizations like Horizon’s Project are needed more than ever to reach young people. Being tested every six months and knowing how to keep yourself safe if you are going to engage in sexual activity or high risk behavior is more than necessary according to Horizon’s Prevention Outreach Coordinator Kyra Sanders.
“The point of today’s event was to target our population of 13-24 year olds who continue to ignore their risk of contracting HIV,” she said. “We decided to mix entertainment with education to get the word out that this is serious.”
The park event included free and confidential HIV/AIDS testing, games, prizes, food and a talent show. Among those invited to participate in the festivities were Alternatives for Girls, Covenant House, Off the Streets, Job Corps and Karios House.
This year’s Jam was sponsored by Motor City Casino. Radio stations Mix 92.3 and FM98 came out providing prizes, encouraging people to get tested and did a live remote broadcast.
Young people took to the stage to display their talent and to take their best shot at winning a $250 cash prize. Horizon’s Project provided the DJ. The requirement for those stepping to the stage was to bring a positive message to their peers. Performers included The Squad, Hard Hitters and a host of individual acts.
Horizon’s Project staff can be found on site and off site at venues around the city. They provide weekly outreach presentations, HIV testing, support groups and transportation to weekly medical and clinic appointments. Youth and young adults 13-24 years of age are eligible.
Each year the Horizon’s Project, which is part of the Detroit Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, tests over 500 young people for HIV/AIDS. As prevention programming goes, the Project’s energetic staff came up with innovative ways, such as this year’s Rock the Park Jam, to reach youth who are testing positive at younger ages. The key phrase being heard around the city is to ‘Know your status.’
A stigma still exists around HIV/AIDS and because of this many fear rejection and fail to disclose their status. Others, unsure of their status, often choose to remain in the dark out of fear of how their lives will be affected. Groups like Horizon’s Project stress that once you know your status you can begin to work on a plan for life with a health care professional that keeps you healthy. They also believe that as we begin to have this conversation within our communities, young people must be included in the process.