Poetry slam promotes HIV/AIDS awareness

A nurse sat quietly at the entrance to the Palmetto Phase 3 assembly room, waiting for students to enter and take a HIV test. As each student passed, she offered them the opportunity to get tested.

The Beta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., in conjuntion with Miss Black & Gold and FAMU Health Services, held a poetry slam last night in the Palmetto Phase III assembly room to emphasize for students the importance of being tested and protecting themselves against HIV and other STDs.

“It’s something that can never be overdone,” said Keith Oliver, 22, a theater performance student from Miami, and member of the fraternity. The event held a personal meaning for him because of his grandfather’s death due to an AIDS-related illness.

Students were individually and privately tested in a side room away from the crowd, and were interviewed for information about their sexual history and practices by Taurus Jerelds, a health counselor at FAMU’s Student Health Services center.

“[The testing process is] nerve-wracking,” Tyrone Gayle, 20, a junior electrical engineering student from Plant City, Fla., said. “I’m kind of excited to see what my results will be.”

Simone Meekins, 19, a sophomore biology student from Hinesville, Ga., said there were more troubling aspects of the event than testing.

“[Students] should be more afraid not to get tested because it’s better to know than not to know,” Meekins said. “I’m really glad they invited Voices and the Alphas did the event, so it wasn’t like a party to do the very things we’re here to get tested for.”

Voices, a student poetry group on campus, featured several poets performing pieces related to relationship issues and students protecting themselves both physically and emotionally.

“Awareness and education as poets that’s one of the main things we have to do. Our is not to just get an emotional response, but for people to do something with it,” said Kezia Gilyard, 19, a sophomore political science student from Tampa and member of Voices.

“[My poem is] about knowing someone on a personal level so you know where you are on a sexual level, in case you want to go there, [and] so you aren’t caught up in someone who doesn’t want you.”

The event focused on Jerelds’ lecture to students, repeatedly stressing how important it is to know about the precautions students must take and risks sexually active students face in a way that’s easy to understand.

“Every 9 and ½ minutes, someone is infected with HIV,” Jerelds said. “It is alive and well on this campus because people don’t take the initiative to get tested. Just man up and do it.”