It’s easy to keep children safe when they’re little; hold a hand, buckle a seat belt, monitor their activities. But as kids mature, even the most vigilant parent might be ignored because of peer pressure and skewed information. Years ago the threat of unwanted pregnancy or contracting an std was often enough warning to make kids wary. Though those facts remain true, for the past thirty years a deadly virus - HIV/AIDS - exists; with far more dire consequences.
Having children of my own and hearing their peers, it frightens me that in spite of the information and education available, it’s not reaching them in way that’s relevant to their idealistic vision - the one we all had once - that they are indestructible. Add to that, many still hold the misconception, HIV/AIDS is no threat to them if they aren’t part of the LGBT community.
If I wanted to see a change, I needed to take action. Thus, I approached Ricky Wright; principal of Palm Springs High School, with the idea to hold an age appropriate assembly for the student body in conjunction with World AIDS Day. I was delighted he readily supported my plan and agreed that forming a closer relationship with the incredible Desert AIDS Project is something we need to do. In taking the first step, we scheduled an assembly for December 8th.
My one concern; perhaps the kids wouldn’t care about the issue and pay little attention, they’d use the time to talk, text or or catch up on homework. I’m profoundly happy to say my concern was unfounded. In fact I was blown away by the respectful and courteous rapt attention the kids gave to what was offered to them. Since the assembly I’ve been repeatedly asked; can we do this more often? can the program be longer? and will the same people please come back to speak? All of this solidified my belief; kids are hungry for relate-able information, presented in a way that captures their interest. And made me eager to pursue more opportunities to bring it to them.
Thanks to the support of the Desert AIDS Project and three wonderful, dynamic friends who, on short notice, carved space into already hectic schedules to volunteer their time and talents, making the assembly a stunning success.
Paul Gallegos; a straight man, husband, and father, opened the program with his own poignant story of living with the dire affects of HIV/AIDS. For us a cold is an annoyance, for him it could mean death. In the recklessness of youth, no consequences in mind, he got involved in drugs and activities he’s not proud of and stresses what he did is not what young people should waste their lives doing.
Sharing a needle with someone who was infected, he contracted the deadly disease. Far more painful than the prison time his actions cost, he pays dearly every day with the threat he might not see his children to maturity or grow old with his beloved wife. It’s emotionally draining for Paul to share his story, but he does it for the greater good and has created the “Intersection Project” through which he and his family work tirelessly to promote education, self-protection and early testing. His closing statement is loud and clear in dispelling mis-information for which he’s proof; “It’s HIV - human immune virus, not GIV - gay immune virus”
His lovely wife Kelly, briefly took the stage. Fighting tears she tells the attendees how HIV/AIDS not only affects Paul but their entire family. The fear and concern they live with every second for the husband and father they love. How their children, who are healthy, fight their own battles to overcome bullying and exclusion, merely because their dad is HIV positive. At ages when Sponge Bob, video games and dances should be their only concern, they do what they can to share the facts of HIV/AIDS.The unwavering love and respect they have for their father keeps them strong and vigilant.
Next, Nicholas Snow; an “openly-gay, openly-HIV positive” actor, singer, writer, journalist, producer, shared that in the midst of a flouring career, he too made a deadly mistake. Caught in a moment of passion he allowed the false delusion to take over, that unprotected sex would be safe, just once. In that foolish choice, he contracted HIV. Thankfully, in being conscientious, he made the wise decision to voluntarily be tested early and now takes lifesaving mediation to prevent the onset of AIDS..
By writing and recording “The Power To Be Strong” an anthem to “HIV Testing/Safer Sex Awareness” - which he performed for the audience - he too found a way to turn his battle into something of benefit, hope and awareness for others. The song is featured on the <a href="http://www.desertaidsproject.org/">Desert AIDS website and is offered as a free-down load on YouTube.
Closing the event was Scott Nevins He’s a vibrant, witty, headlining comedian, award winning TV/radio host and personality - many of the kids knew him from TruTV’s hit show “The Smoking Gun Presents” - and celebrity interviewer. He gives a tremendous amount of his time and talents to benefit organizations, such as the Desert AIDS Project. In fact the night before he co-produced and hosted the second annual <a href="http://sparklepalmsprings.com/">“SPARKLE: An All-Star Holiday Concert”
But this day; speaking at the assembly, Scott wasn’t a celebrity, but a young, non-infected, openly-gay guy, who the kids connected with immediately. Because he remembers when only a dozen years ago, he’d been where many of them are; searching for his own truth and seeking acceptance, without fear of bias or discrimination. With matter of fact, lighthearted poignancy he shared the story of his coming out to his family and friends and how he turned the other cheek to bullies and bigotry while standing proud and strong in pursuing his dreams, leading him to a great future.
Scott clearly stated he’s been vigilant in protection against the deadly disease and lives a full and enjoyable life free from drugs, alcohol and trappings that often muddle choices and destroy your life.
He opened the mic to questions, which gave the kids an opportunity to address issues, in a non-judgement, safe environment, where they were comfortable to say what’s on their minds; “how did you know you were gay?”, “what are the symptoms of AIDS?” to name just a few.
There were moments I’ll never forget that filled me with deep emotion. The audience’s absolute silence in hearing the stories, seeing cell phones held high representing a candle lit vigil, kids swaying in unison to the song, other kids filling the aisle to snap photos and videos, and the intelligent and timely questions.
When the bell rang many students stayed, giving up their lunch period, to ask more questions and meet those who’d they heard. One young man proudly showed the rubber bracelets he wears in support of gay rights. Scott, Nicholas and Paul, kindly talked with kids and posed for pictures. Scott readily offered for them to follow him on Twitter and ask any questions they might have in the future.
By educating our youth, we can stop the spread of HIV/AIDS!
Like cancer, diabetes or heart disease; HIV/AIDS is a heinous intruder. It doesn’t differentiate between age, race, creed, gender, social status or sexual orientation. It doesn’t care what your dreams and life ambitions are. Its severe punishment for one mistake is far worse than any a parent or teacher can inflict. HIV/AIDS does not pardon; but orders a death sentence that to date has no parole.
However, unlike other diseases, HIV/AIDS can be stopped! It’s not a dream but a fact, there need never be a new case. And It is the responsibility of every parent, adult and educator to remove the taboo of this disease and make certain children have the correct knowledge and understanding to stringently use caution and the available resources to halt it in is tracks. It is as important as instructing our kids to not walk into traffic, as this disease is a deadly vehicle.
By uniting in the fight against HIV/AIDS through education, we’re given the very real opportunity to make the dream of creating a better world for our children a reality. For every-ones child please join me in learning what you can do!
Though I can’t guarantee who’ll be on the stage, I’m fully inspired and anxious to bring events like this to schools often!