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Health fair is upbeat AIDS prevention tactic

Fri, Mar 15, 2013

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s “Change My Story” campaign is hosting its first-ever health and wellness fair for women of color from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, March 7 at Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Drive. The entire event is free to the public.

Focused on women age 18 to 60, the health fair is intended to be a holistic, upbeat event, officials said. In addition to health screenings and expert panels, participants will be able to find resume writing tips from the Job Corps as well as fashion ideas, makeup sessions, dance and spoken word performances.
“We really wanted to put together a resource that would help women access everything that would help them in combatting the health disparities and social determinants of health,” said Cynthia Tucker, director of prevention and community partnerships at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, in a telephone interview.

“So many women on the South Side are dealing with things they lack,” Tucker said. “They are closed out of the health care system or it is difficult for them to access it. They also lack the ability to get job opportunities. They have increased exposure to crime and violence. They are just segregated economically, so we wanted to put together information and resources to kind of pamper them, give them the inside scoop of being healthy and entertain them, not just give them a card to take away.”

The Change My Story health and wellness fair is scheduled for March 7 in order to honor the annual National Women and Girls HIV and AIDS Day, which is March 10. However, Tucker said the health focus is broader, and includes sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence, mental health. HIV/AIDS testing will be available, along with hepatitis screening and information on breast cancer.

Panelists will include Dr. Lisa Henry Reid, chair of the adolescent and young adult medicine program at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County; Celeste Watkins-Hayes, PhD., chair of the Department of African-Aemrican Studies at Northwestern University on the economics and health disparities of African-American women; and Dr. Oluwatoyin Falusi Adeyemi of the Ruth Rothstein CORE Center. The Rev. Vicky Johnson of the AIDS Coalition will discuss spirituality and the resources that come with membership in a community church.

The Change My Story campaign has an extensive website that not only describes risks for HIV but stories from real people. It tells where to get tested – and where to find a doctor if the test comes back positive.
“This is information you can get because you’re feeling pretty stigmatized already, because you’re frightened,” Tucker said. “You’ve seen a card and you can go to a computer. You can log on, find an array of information without anyone knowing because it is confidential. It walks you through a lot of steps, what happens in a first visit, what to ask a doctor.”

The Chicago State University venue allows Change My Story to take this work a step further by introducing participants to organizations in their community where they can learn more about HIV prevention or where they can receive health services, she added.

“It’s not us saying ‘we’re here one time and you will be fine.’ It’s ‘here are resources where you can go and make an appointment next week.” Yet Change My Story is also trying to make the event fun, she said. It is looking at several department stores to stage informal modeling of the latest fashions, massage schools for mini chair massages; makeup artists to prepare daytime and nighttime looks and salons to show how hair can transition from work to a date.
Continental breakfast and lunch will also be served. There will be raffles and goody bags as long as the supply lasts. The Global Girls will provide a dance performance; Brenda Matthews will offer spoken word.
Female vocalist of the Year for the Soul Tracks Readers Choice Awards, Conya Doss, will also make an appearance. She has been doing philanthropy, such as BET’s Rap-IT-Up program, focused on teen AIDS prevention.
HIV and sexual transmission rates are on the rise – but rates for women are decreasing, which is why Tucker wants to continue programs such as this health fair. She also wants the prevention discussion to resonate with a wider audience than just gay men, whether white or black.

“We don’t want to go back to the alarming numbers we had,” she said of the “huge swell of women infected” in the early 90s. “We want women to stay safe. I think we get complacent. If you don’t hear anything, you think, ‘they are not talking to me.’ When the disease began, it was just men, mostly white gay men, so this is a reminder it is impacting everyone. Maybe the numbers have gone down, but it’s not a reason to get complacent.”

By Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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