Daytona university and students hope to raise AIDS awareness

By : Wire Report
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Daytona Beach (AP) – Michael Moore remembers the long walk from Bethune-Cookman University to a health clinic a few miles away.

He was sweating when he arrived, but not just from the late-July heat. After enduring mysterious flu-like symptoms on and off for two years, he was nervous about the results of a blood test he’d taken two weeks earlier.

And when he tore into the envelope, his worst fear was realized. At age 21, Moore learned he was HIV-positive.

“I’ve never cried so hard in my life,” he recalled as he sat on a bench outside the B-CU library. “I felt like I was hit by a bus. I thought I was going to die.”

Now 22 and in his junior year, the tears and shame are gone and Moore sees his virus as an opportunity to raise awareness in the community and among fellow students. With an $829,628 grant his school received in September, this mission could be a little easier.

“I want to help bring change on the campus,” he said. “I want people to see that I’m going through this, but I’m healthy, I’m fine. I want to be an inspiration to people.”

There are 1,451 people in Volusia County who rely on medication and treatment to combat the HIV virus, according to the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County. Many of these, 330, live right outside the gates of Bethune-Cookman, within the 32114 zip code, and the school received the three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to reach out to its neighbors and hopefully keep these numbers from climbing.

B-CU is working with Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare to develop strategies to reduce new HIV infections, increase access to care and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV and more.

“AIDS/HIV is a critical topic for us because statistics have shown disproportionate numbers of young minorities being affected by this disease. Our student body, alumni, staff and supporters constantly strive to enrich the lives of others,” B-CU president Edison Jackson said in a statement.

This is the third health care system B-CU has begun collaborating with this year.

The school’s department chair of sociology, Earl Mowatt, is leading the newest effort. He said all of the plans have not yet been worked out. But one thing is certain: Students will help lead the charge.

The virus is more prevalent among blacks – the rate of new HIV infection in blacks is eight times that of whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Midtown community, 216 of the 330 living with HIV or AIDs are black.

B-CU students can have a huge impact on the area, said Jeff Allen, director and founder of the Daytona Beach-based Positive Champions Speakers Bureau, which organizes speakers to tell their stories about living with HIV.

“If (Bethune-Cookman) is educating their students, that will raise awareness to the community,” said Allen, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985.

While Moore seems like a normal college student and fraternity brother with aspirations to be an elementary school teacher, the secret he kept for years set him apart.

During his high school years, Moore, who is bisexual, said he had a lot of sexual partners and did not use condoms or other forms of contraception.

One day, in 2011, he started experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Moore knew he was sick. A track athlete in high school, he realized he couldn’t run long distances like he used to. His feet hurt to the point where he could hardly move at all without having to clutch handrails.

He turned to the Internet to find out what his diagnosis could be. One of the possible results brought fear into his mind: HIV.

He put off testing. “I was scared. I was very scared,” he said.

Moore eventually got a free test that would change his life.

For so long, the virus was like a weight on Moore’s chest. He knew he had to let it out. A year and a half after he learned he was HIV-positive, he took to Facebook.

“Dear world,” he said in a Nov. 10 Facebook status. “Since July 27th, 2013, I have been living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. I’ve come to let HIV/AIDS know, that myself, along with the countless others in this fight across the world are not intimidated by you and will not be run by you any longer. At 22 years of age, I’m fighting back. I encourage you to join me and fight with me whether you are HIV +, Living with AIDS or just an individual that wants to see this disease put to rest.”

The point of his outreach, Moore said, is to address the stigmas and misconceptions that surround the disease. That’s a mission the health department shares.

HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, said Forand.

B-CU’s Mowatt said part of the school’s mission is to serve the community, and he’s excited to see what can be accomplished once the program begins as early as next year. He said the school will conduct a needs assessment to determine how much the population currently knows about HIV/AIDS and gain an understanding of how students and the community members feel about it. Then he will enlist the help of student volunteers from the psychology and sociology departments and others to be “soldiers for the cause” who will work to raise awareness and education in the surrounding area.

As Moore sat outside the school library, he said he’s ready to take action.

“This is a great thing to look forward to,” he said of the grant. “To be able to say you can help be a part of change – people need this. They need to know about this. It’s something you have to talk about.”

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