I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center (ICL), Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center, Inc. (AEH), Toney's Barber Shop and the ACT Against AIDS Leadership Initiative joined in partnership to host "Cutting to the Chase" a World AIDS Day event. I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center decided to take their message of HIV/AIDS to an area that needed it the most; Clarksdale, Mississippi, during World AIDS Day. When asked why Mississippi, Mr. Tony Wafford, President and CEO of I Choose Life, simply replied, "I'm so glad you asked. Mississippi is among the top states in the nation in the spread of HIV/AIDS among pre-teens to young adults, as well as pregnancies in the same age groups according to findings from the CDC." He went on to say that the CDC's report found that the rate of young adults, age 20 to 24 living with HIV/AIDS was 33.9 cases per 100,000 people; the eighth highest rate in the nation for this age group. Mary Currier, the state's epidemiologist, said the findings indicate that the state's abstinence only approach to sex education is ineffective.
It's been said that any kind of sex education in Mississippi, beyond abstinence, is a tough sell, so I Choose Life decided to deliver their message straight to the people and no better place to start than in the local barber shop. Armed with condoms, capes, HIV 101 hand-outs and free HIV testing they did just that; delivered an awareness message to the people. For the second time Chief Medical Officer, William L. Booker, MD of the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center, Inc. joined Tony Wafford and ICL to host a community event in Clarksdale. Dr. Booker was so pleased that I Choose Life decided to return, that he approached Mr. Anthony (Toney) Harris, Owner/Operator of the most popular barber shop in Clarksdale to co-host a community forum during World AIDS Day. "When Dr. Booker asked if he could bring Mr. Wafford to the shop to talk to the guys about HIV and getting tested I said sure! These guys come in here every day and we talk about everything; sports, politics, religion and you know we talk about sex, so I was looking forward to Tony's visit to the shop." said Anthony. Anthony was being somewhat modest about his opening the shop for a community dialogue. Having recently been awarded the "2011 Citizen of the Year" award by his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, he clearly understands the importance of working with the community to bring about change. Mr. Harris was so appreciative for the opportunity to give back to the community, he offered a complimentary haircut and car wash to all those who tested for HIV.
Dr. Booker provided free HIV testing, talked straight talk to the attendees, addressed their concerns as well as dispelled all the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS along with telling the men, young and old, the importance of knowing their HIV status. "We talked about safer sex practices, supporting loved ones and friends that we know may be at greatest risk and it's up to us as Black men to encourage brothers coming out of custody to know their HIV status." said Wafford.
Mississippi's attempt to establish a pilot sex-education program in a limited number of schools, which by the way, passed in the Mississippi House, but died in the Senate, would have been the first step towards educating its youths about HIV/AIDS and other STI's. "We are so grateful for I Choose Life's commitment to the state of Mississippi and their continued effort to partner with our center and other organizations and businesses here in Clarksdale. You know, we're doing all we can to tackle this HIV/AIDS issue in Mississippi, but with limited resources and support, it's always helpful to have outside partners to come in and reinforce our message." said Dr. Booker.
While in the Southern Region, I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center also partnered with the City of Memphis, Lewis Baptist Church, Memphis, TN and World Overcomers Ministry, Memphis, TN during their awareness events in observance of World AIDS Day. ICL is looking forward to coming back to Mississippi in February for National Black HIV Awareness Day and partnering with Toney, Dr. Booker and others to host the largest HIV screening and educational event this area has witnessed in a very long time, if ever.