World AIDS Day recognized with candlelight vigil at Florida A&M University

Dr. Maria Okeke with student volunteers as they pose next to informational boards used at the events.Photo by Vanessa Ferguson

On Monday evening, Florida A&M students and the Tallahassee community gathered at the university’s Eternal Flame to remember the plethora of lives lost to the AIDS epidemic.

World Aids Day is celebrated on December 1st every year to unite people from all over the world in raising awareness to HIV/AIDS. This year the theme for World Aids Day 2019 is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community.” 

Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), Florida Department of Health, FAMU Student Health Services, FAMU School of Nursing, Tallahassee Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., FSU Epsilon Nu Chapter, Bond Community Health Center, MAACA, MAACA Peer, Sangria Events and Capital City Aids Network were among some of the organizations in the Tallahassee community that took part  in this event. 

Knowledge is one of the cornerstones in the fight against the epidemic. Shirley Jean Pierre, a biology student that MC’d the event hopes that knowledge is the students’ biggest takeaway from this event. 

“Coming to events like this gives you information and it also gives you other places to seek information. So, it is beneficial for people who are

FAMU Students in front of the eternal flame with lit candles in hand. Photo by Vanessa Ferguson

unaware and even those who are aware to gain more,” said Pierre. 

Those that attended Monday’s event received not only information, but they got the chance to experience several live performances and hear heartfelt stories. Performances ranging from poetry to singing were given by Keith Rogers, Kimani Jackson, and Pastor John Harris. 

Dr. Albert Chester II was one of the speakers at the event. Chester is a graduate of Florida A&M University and is running for United States Representative for Florida’s 5 Congressional District. 

“Any time you have an opportunity to inform others about ways to get tested, ways to prevent it, ways to live with it and how to have a better life is something I always want to be a part of,” said Chester. 

Chester’s expectations were most definitely met with the turnout of students. With final exams approaching and Monday’s temperature being in the 40’s this didn’t stop students from gathering around the Eternal Flame. 

“Whenever you can get young people to come out at night, when they don’t have to, shows that they want to be here. That’s super important,” says Chester. 

Since 2004, the Candle-Light Vigil has been happening each year to remember individuals who are infected and that are affected as well. For years, it has ensured that people and communities have the power to end the stigma,

Shelia Morris who has been working in the field of HIV for the last 25 years, was one of the leaders that helped spearhead Monday’s event along with Dr. Maria Okeke and Sylvia Hubbard who is the CEO of MAACA. (The Minority Alliance for Advocating Community Awareness and Action, Inc.)

“The main goal is to impact the students to get tested, know their status and to know the real facts of HIV/AIDS,” says Morris. 

Along with Hubbard, Morris also works with MAACA.

Group of Students and Tallahassee community at the event with Singer/Pastor John Harris. Photo by Vanessa Ferguson

MAACA is a local non-profit HIV/AIDS Prevention organization that hosts innovative programs to end HIV/AIDS in the community that offers HIV Prevention Education, Abstinence Education and much more. 

Today and every day, we must continue to work to bring an end to this epidemic. 

“Keep supporting HIV/AIDS activities, go to Student Health Services, and stay involved,” says Morris. 

Free HIV Testing and informational pamphlets were also featured at this event. These items can be obtained any time throughout the year as well at FAMU Student Health Services.