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Triangle African-Americans Learning About AIDS

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RALEIGH — The number of AIDS cases in the African-American community is growing at an alarming rate, so all this week in Raleigh, historically black colleges and the American Red Cross are joining forces to educate young people about the deadly disease.

African Americans now represent 35 percent of ALL reported AIDS cases and 43 percent of new cases. Because of that, The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, or NAFEO, and the American Red Cross are training students in an effort to stop the spread of AIDS.

"You never know, that's why abstinence is the best thing," said a Shaw student involved in a discussion.

"This is college. Somebody's going to have sex somewhere," another student responded. "Give them condoms and a pamphlet about stds."

It seems it's become a never-ending debate in the fight against HIV/AIDS-- whether to pass out condoms or promote abstinence. Some students are dealing with the issue as they learn that information is a powerful weapon against the spread of AIDS.

"Let more college students know about it," says Shaw student Phillip Smith. "Then they can go out and help like we're trying to do right now."

After a week of extensive training, a group of students will become HIV peer counselors.

"We want them to relay these same training skills to youth in the community," said Shaw's Director of Counseling, Carol Gartrell. "That means making sure that they know what the methods of transmission are, but more especially know what they can do to prevent infection."

Shaw student Kristi Robinson knows the pain of HIV/AIDS. She lost a friend to the disease.

"It was the saddest funeral I've ever been to, and it was disturbing that he was an African-American and he was only 23-years old," says Robinson.

The American Red Cross says 40 percent of African-Americans with AIDS were diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 34. Part of the problem is that many young people have misconceptions about hos the disease is spread.

"We have traditionally been selective," said Cheryl Nesbitt, HIV/AIDS trainer. "If a person's a part of our church, there's a belief the person cannot be gay, they could not be shooting drugs, or they could not be having unprotected sex."

Both organizations say efforts to educate African-Americans about AIDS have been only marginally successful because most do not address or consider the culture. Reaching the students of historically black colleges and universities, they say, is a good start.

The students at Shaw will take their message beyond the campus, visiting public housing areas near the university.

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Kelly Wright, Reporter
Rick Armstrong, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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