William Grant Still Arts Center commemorates Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

imageTo raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, the William Grant Still Arts Center held a doll-making workshop and offered free HIV/AIDS testing on Saturday. National Black Awareness Day is Monday, Feb. 7.

The event coordinated with the center’s Black Doll Exhibit.

HIV/AIDS infects 56,000 new Americans every year. Infection rates are especially high in the African Americans.

Estimates say 15,000 people in Los Angeles are infected with the virus and don’t know it. These people will be responsible for 50 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases.

Dolls of Hope

When Cynthia Davis traveled in Sub-Saharan Africa and visited orphans from HIV/AIDS, she was surprised to see that they didn’t have any toys.

“They were playing with rock and pieces of tree bark and old tires,” said Davis. “I thought having a doll would be something that would comfort them.”

A doll collector herself, the assistant professor at Drew University of Medicine and Science and HIV/AIDS advocate started a new group. She called is Dolls of Hope. It aims to bring dolls to orphans from HIV across the world.

Davis taught a doll-making workshop at the arts center. A group of volunteers, primarily children from the neighborhood, gathered to stuff and sow cloth dolls. These dolls will now be sent across seas.

“Everybody loves dolls, especially children,” said Davis. “The doll represents life, it represents children, it represents unconditional love.”

To date, Davis has given out over 6,000 dolls.

imageDolls of Hope have been meeting at the center for the last three years for Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The organization also has workshops all over the world, with the first during 1998 world AIDS Days.

Before the workshop began, Davis spoke to the group about HIV/AIDS and the impact on the African American community. Working in the black community for almost three decades, Davis has found there’s still a lot of stigma and fear surrounding AIDS.

“People who are infected, they need love and care and support,” Davis said.

The Van

In front of the center, a medical van offered anonymous and free HIV tests. The van is part of another of Davis’ project she started at Drew University.

“In the hood, it’s known as the AIDSmobile,” laughed Albert Washington, one of the technicians on the van.

Davis got funding for the van 1991. At the time, it was the first mobile testing van in Los Angeles. Today vans like this are standard as outreach to at-risk communities.

The van is the size of a trailer home. Steep steps lead to a little reception, with an exam room on either side. The test is just an oral swab and results come back in 20 minutes – a vast improvement to the method of drawing blood from yesteryear. Back then, tests were done off site and results took 5-7 days.

This van is the only unit to patrols South Los Angeles, which has one of the highest concentrations of infection in the county. Washington says he usually finds two to three positive cases a week.
Washington says administrating the test is a small part of the job. The harder part is telling people they have a life-changing disease.

“It becomes part of you, because you get used to doing it,” said Washington. “You can see the pouring of expression from their faces. You can see the face of betrayal. These faces never leave you.”

If someone tests positive, the van is prepared to tell him or her what to do next. They try to make is as easy as possible to take the next steps. Otherwise, Washington says, they could be out infecting more people.

“We cross the T’s and dot the I’s,” said Washington. “We will make the appointments, we will get them a contact person, we give them literature.”

Like many organizations with a free service, the van is always fighting for funding. Davis is worried they may not be able to stay open. They ironically didn’t have the money to remove their sponsors’ names on the side of the van after those sponsors dropped them.

Remember, Recycle and Revive

Davis’ doll workshop coincided with the center’s Black Doll exhibit. The exhibit opened Jan. 8 and will close Feb. 19.

Cheryl Williams, the show’s curator, explained that the name of the show, Remember, Recycle and Revive, is based on remembering black heritage, making dolls from recycled materials, and celebrating the revival of black culture.

Photographs from Black Doll Exhibit:

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