It was standing room only at City Hall’s Conversation Hall last Thursday where members of the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) at the University of Pennsylvania held its Eighth Annual World Aids Day Red Ribbon event.
West and Southwest Philadelphia organizers were well represented during the ceremony.
Every seat was taken as attendees stood in the rear to observe festivities as organizers, community leaders, AIDS activists and concerned citizens packed the hall — many wearing red in honor of the occasion.
This year’s mistress of ceremonies, radio personality Tiffany Bacon, engaged the audience into lively participation as those who fight against AIDS were recognized for their contributions.
“We are trying to get to zero — that is zero infections — and it is really important that the power of zero be represented be represented by the power of one — and we are that one,” she said.
Bacon is no stranger in the struggle against the disease and is active with her own efforts to raise public awareness about the disease especially among youth.
“Aside from radio which, I have been doing for 21 years, I am also a SIHLE (Sisters Informing Healing Living and Empowering) project specialist,” Bacon said. “It’s a social skills training and healthy lifestyle workshop for Black teen girls ages 14–18.”
During these workshops, Bacon said she instructs the girls how to care for themselves and make healthy decisions. She also helps them understand that they have personal power.
Among the speakers at the event was Jordan Harris of the Philadelphia Youth Commission who took the opportunity to disclose his own story of a relative who was diagnosed with the virus and its impact on him.
“If we want our children to be self-sufficient citizens, then we must first see that they grow up,” Harris said.
AIDS activist Julie Davids, a member of the group ACT-UP, served as the keynote speaker of the event and received a standing ovation as she walked behind the podium to encourage the audience to continue pursuing the theme of the event “getting to zero” and outlined some steps she believed could be taken to help make that theme a reality in the future.
Linda Blunt, founder of the Youth Adolescent Community Awareness Program (YOACAP), a Southwest Philadelphia youth program formed in 1989, was also given a protracted standing ovation when her name was called to receive her Red Ribbon Award trophy acknowledging her work to fight the spread of AIDS in the community.
It was Blunt who encouraged then-Director of Social Services of Philadelphia, Julia Danzy, to organize a community-based effort with YOACAP to seek a better understanding of issues related to public health.
From this effort emerged the Southwest Community Advisory Group (SWCAG), a coalition of community organizers and stakeholders whose mission is to improve the quality of life for Southwest residents.
Blunt, the recipient of numerous awards such as Ebony Magazine’s Unsung Hero in 2010, the NAACP’s Outstanding Citizens Award and others, humbly gave credit to the members of YOACAP who she says work tirelessly to engage local youth.
Many of them, including Woody Beale, executive director of the organization, were youths themselves when they met Blunt.
“We’ve come such a long way, thirty years of fighting, thirty years of losing those that we loved and cared about, of using fellow soldiers, fellow workers,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking because of the people that we lost, but it is uplifting because of the people that we saved.”
Others receiving Red Ribbon Awards included: Lisa Bond, Ph.D., senior research associate at Public Health Management Corporation; Scott Burris, JD, professor of law at Temple University, where he directs the Center for Health Law, Policy and Practice; and D’Angelo D’Ontace Keys, a senior at the University of the Arts who has addressed the problem of HIV/AIDS through education and community organizing.