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Howard University > Alternative Spring Break 2013

How ASB Taught Me What We All Should Know

   
By Dominique Smiley
Howard University News Service
 

WASHINGTON (March 14, 2013) -- I sat at the long table in the basement of Westminster Presbyterian Church in southwest Washington waiting without much concern about the job I had been  assigned.

The participants who had volunteered previously told me that the experience was intense, but it just didn’t seem to be that dramatic. 

I was working at START (Syringe, Training, Advocacy, Resource and Treatment) at Westminster, an HIV/AIDS prevention program in southwest Washington.   As part of the program, a mobile unit travels throughout various Washington providing free HIV/AIDS testing and referrals.  They also collect mounds of data.

My job was to enter the data.   I thought that entering a few numbers and other information into a computer from a piece of paper was going to be the easiest job I could do that week.  I was wrong.

“Have you ever used intravenous drugs?” was one of the questions on the application.

Dominique Smiley
Dominique Smiley

“Yes,” was the answer.  I paused shortly.

“Does your line of work put you at risk for HIV?” was another question.

“Yes,” was response again.  “Hmmm,” I thought.

“Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”

“Yes.”  Big pause.

Suddenly, my heart ached. I looked harder at the application and realized that the applicant had been a young, transgender male, who identified himself as a female. Twenty-two was the age listed.

I thought, “In 22 years, how is it that someone could go through so much pain? How is that even fair?”

s I shook my head, and set the application aside, but it remained in the forefront of my thoughts.

I don’t know exactly why, but my mindset changed all of a sudden. It dawned on me that I wasn’t just entering numbers in a computer, but that I was facilitating change.

 Although my role in the broad picture seemed small, my participation in the project was going to help further research efforts to target heavily affected populations, help further suppress the HIV virus and its spread and further prevent and ultimately eliminate the disease.

I learned more about HIV in a few hours typing in numbers and addresses than I can say I did in all my years before then. 

One of those lessons I learned and that I want to leave with you is this. 

HIV has no face.  It does not discriminate.

But it is no longer a death sentence.  Get tested.  It can save your life and the lives of others.

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