Laughter echoed throughout the Grand Ballroom on Tuesday night as Rattlers and visitors listened to actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph as she discussed her new book, “Redefining DIVA,” and her supportive family.
Ralph also touched on a more serious issue – AIDS prevention and awareness.
“The No. 1 reason why HIV-positive people do not tell their partner of their status is because they do not know they are HIV positive,” Ralph said.
HIV is preventable. However, people 13 to 29 accounted for 39 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Florida A&M’s Student Health Services, along with other organizations, joined Tallahassee sponsors in a series of events in observance of World AIDS Week 2012.
Ralph had everyone’s attention as she read from her book. The room was silent and attentive as she stressed the importance of getting tested for HIV.
“Put yourself first, and stay disease-free,” Ralph said. “Life is about choices. The choice to get tested takes 20 minutes.”
Tarrika Mitchell, a Tallahassee native, was among the many faces in the crowd. She had been a fan of the TV series “Moesha,” a show that Ralph acted on, and was excited to hear Ralph speak, as well as gain more knowledge on AIDS prevention.
“It is important to know your status to prevent the spread,” Mitchell said.
In the first stages of HIV infection, most people will have very few symptoms, if any.
Within a month or two after infection, they may experience a flu-like illness, while others may have no symptoms for 12 or more years. Getting tested is the only way to find out if one has the disease.
William Mitchell, a first-year business administration student from Orlando, came to the event ready to hear the guest speaker.
“It is your obligation to get tested if you are sexually active,” he said. “If you respect your partner and yourself, you will know your status.”
Ralph encouraged crowd participation, so the program was full of energy. Ralph shared stories of her days on Broadway in “Dream Girls.”
The crowd had its laughs, but the message Ralph delivered was clear. HIV is preventable and it is better to get tested now than regret it later.
Tanya Tatum, the director of Student Health Services, has been involved in the World AIDS Week program for the past 5 years.
“We are excited to have Sheryl Lee Ralph here,” Tatum said. “She is an excellent speaker. Students will not be only informed but entertained by her dynamic personality.”
Tatum urges students to get tested and participate in the various activities going on throughout the week.
“HIV testing is free every day at the FAMU clinic and students should take full advantage of that,” she said.
All the scheduled events this week are free and open to the public.