With June comes warmer weather and weekend trips to the beach, but a local HIV/AIDS organization wants residents to think more about their health than their tanlines this month.
Philadelphia FIGHT will launch its 15th annual AIDS Education Month next week, with an array of events seeking to raise awareness about HIV transmission and prevention.
FIGHT originally began the Education Month events in 1994 and the effort has expanded over the years.
This year’s activities will kick off with an opening reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. June 3 at the Independence Visitors Center, Sixth and Market streets, which will feature remarks by Mayor Nutter and the presentation of numerous awards. FIGHT will recognize John Cella, the outgoing director of the city’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office, with its Philadelphia Bowl honor.
“John’s been really influential in Philadelphia for many years in his role as director of AACO and has always been a great supporter of AIDS Education Month and Philadelphia FIGHT, so we’re very excited to be giving him this award,” said Juliet Fink, FIGHT director of education.
The organization will also present its annual Kiyoshi Kuromiya awards, named for the late local LGBT and HIV/AIDS activist, to Cynthia Vasquez of Congreso de Latino Unidos’ Esfuerzo program, which focuses on HIV-prevention efforts among the local Latino community; Greg Thompson and Lin Crowe of Kingdom Care Reentry Network, a faith-based program that strives for successful transitions for ex-offenders; and Adriane Medford and Scott Booker of the Philadelphia Freedom from AIDS Campaign ministry, which raises awareness about the disease in minority communities.
“These awards are really hitting a number of folks who have been playing specific roles over the years and who have been very influential in certain communities in Philadelphia impacted by HIV/AIDS,” Fink said.
FIGHT will also target several of those communities with its annual summits.
“Beyond the Walls: Prison Healthcare and Reentry Summit” will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. June 9 at the Student Center at Temple University, 1755 N. 13th St. Fink said the event will bring together ex-offenders, prison guards, parole officers, defense attorneys and others involved in the criminal-justice system to “talk about and strategize ways to more effectively manage people’s health while they’re in prison as well as to better prepare them for when they come out and reenter society.”
From 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. June 20, Temple’s Student Center will also host “One City, One Voice: Youth Outreach, Education and Empowerment Summit,” an event created by and for local youth.
“The goal of this summit is to really engage young people to talk about sexuality, relationships, gender and identity — things that they don’t get to talk about in schools very frequently but that are critical for young people developing into adults,” Fink said.
She added that FIGHT has heard from many teachers, parents and others who work with youth and who are interested in learning more about how to communicate positive health messages to them, spurring the organization to launch an “Adult Talk” track at this year’s summit, in which those over 25 can share ideas in a series of workshops run by local youth.
The 10th annual “HIV Prevention and Outreach Summit,” from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 24 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St., is the capstone event of the month’s activities. The conference will provide various workshops and resources for those living with HIV/AIDS, service providers and others seeking more information about the disease and local efforts to combat its spread.
“This summit is kind of the catch-all event, in which everyone’s included,” Fink said. “We have a number of topics — such as youth issues, sex work, faith-based communities and trans communities. It will touch on a number of topics and has a very, very wide audience.”
In addition to the summits, FIGHT and presenting partners Congreso de Latinos Unidos and ActionAIDS will also offer such events as the invitation-only June 11 “Call to Action: Faith-Based Leaders as Change Catalysts in the HIV Field,” a discussion among local church leaders about the effort to de-stigmatize the disease; and the kickoff cookout, which is open to the public, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. June 6 at 33rd and Oxford streets in Fairmount Park.
FIGHT has also worked with health agencies throughout the city to establish an extensive list of sites offering free HIV tests during National HIV Testing Day June 27. Fink said there are locations from “Northeast Philly to South Philly to Northwest Philly,” as well as in the suburbs and New Jersey, where local residents can receive free, confidential tests, most of which take just 20 minutes.
“We challenged agencies to hold testing events throughout the city and signed up places from all over, so we’re very excited that there will be someplace in almost every single neighborhood in the city for people to go get tested,” she said.
For the list of HIV testing sites or for more information about AIDS Education Month, visit www.fight.org/aem.