Black AIDS Day in Columbia highlights importance of testing

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 4:55 p.m. CST; updated 10:08 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Chi Kappa chapter bring Jannis Evans to speak at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at MU on Tuesday as a part of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Earlier in the day, free rapid HIV testing was made available at the student center. "Those 20 minutes can change your life," said Evans.

COLUMBIA — A few years ago, the sweat trickled down Marcus Mayes’ forehead as he waited for the results of his first HIV test.

“It’s a nerve-racking thing,” he said. Like going to the dentist, “crossing your fingers and hoping you don’t have a cavity.”

Black AIDS Day Activities


11 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Free and confidential HIV testing in the MU Student Center, Room 2206 B. 

7 to 9 p.m.: Interactive discussion and workshop with Jannis Evans, the African-American HIV/AIDS Emergency Response Coordinator for the State of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Center for Health Equality, in the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

9 p.m.: Candlelight vigil at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to honor those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. A limited number of candles will be provided.

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Mayes, the coordinator of the Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative, was back home in Tulsa, Okla., at a free screening center to gain “the power of knowing” his status.

“I just wanted to know,” he said.

Now, Mayes helps organize events in Columbia around Black AIDS Day, a nationwide day of awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on blacks in the U.S. One of two events in the state promoting the day, activities at MU will include free HIV testing, a lecture and a vigil in order to “highlight the epidemic and bring awareness about HIV and AIDS,” Mayes said.

Blacks are affected by HIV/AIDS more than any other race or ethnicity in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statistics from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services show that new HIV diagnoses are nine times more likely for blacks than whites in Missouri. For all the women in the state diagnosed with HIV for the first time in 2010, 70 percent were black, even though black females make up only 12 percent of the population. State data also show people 19 to 24 years old received the most new diagnoses that year.

Tuesday's free and confidential testing from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the MU Student Center will be conducted by Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department and Rain-Central Missouri, a sexual health advocacy and service organization. Rain Executive Director Cale Mitchell said young adults make up almost 85 percent of people who come in for the free testing.

Even though black churches have started conversations about HIV/AIDS in Columbia, the problem remains one of perception, he said.

“They fall into the same trap as the heterosexual population,” Mitchell said. “That is, they look at it as a gay disease and something they don’t have to worry about.”

Money can also be an obstacle to get tested, even if the cost is just $10, he said. 

The MU Student Health Center charges $22 for full-time students for an HIV test alone, or $99 for a recommended routine screening of HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

For Mayes, after the nurse pricked his finger and drew a drop of blood, he said he sat an agonizing 15 or 20 minutes before she came back with the answer.

He was HIV negative.

“It’s like the world is lifted off your shoulders,” he said.

After that, Mayes has made finding out his status a yearly routine, he said.

“HIV/AIDS? That’s scary. As scary as something like that is, you would think that everybody, no matter who they are, would go get tested so they could know," he said. "But a lot of times it does the counter of that, people are so afraid of it, or the potential, that they just don’t want to know. That’s even scarier than the actual disease.”

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