The Global Village, one of the highlights of the 19th International AIDS Conference, humanized the AIDS epidemic from an international perspective.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a global village to defeat AIDS. In response to the global pandemic, 25,000 people from around the world converged on the nation's capital last month to share their ideas about the AIDS epidemic through the visual arts, live performances and lectures at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.
"A lot of people don't wear condoms, but they should," said Niko Gibbs, who lives in Southeast. Gibbs, and his dance crew, "Condomize!" wowed Global Village delegates and guests with their rhythmic and agile hip-hop performances which drove home the message of safe-sex during the conference.
"Condomize! is special, and I thought I could at least dance to encourage condom usage, because there's too much to live for not to use condoms," said Gibbs, 20.
Gibbs, who attended Ballou Senior High School, said that he's passionate about HIV prevention and now has a purpose in his life, performing with Fabian Barnes' Dance Institute of Washington in Northwest. Gibbs said that he has also enrolled in a Job Corps GED program.
"I want to promote condom use. I heard about Condomize! through the Dance Institute of Washington. I became a part of the Condomize! crew because it's about people protecting themselves."
For the dancers, the AIDS epidemic hits close to home.
Combined, Wards 7 and 8, where many of the young Condomize! dancers live – has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the District – which brings a sense of urgency to the group's efforts to eradicate the disease.
The Condomize! dancers served as fitting ambassadors for the Global Village, which appealed to visitors of all ages, races, and nationalities.
Artisans also hawked their wares at the bustling Global Village.
"We sold handmade Kente cloth from Ghana to [raise funds] for those community members who could not afford to attend the conference," said Billie Tyler, a District of Columbia registered nurse and DC Community Coalition organizer. Her table displayed richly blended cloth woven by the hands of a Ghanaian master. "They're selling for $40.00 a piece, quite a deal," said Tyler in an upbeat tone. But the local community AIDS activist became somber once she started to discuss the HIV/AIDS problem in the District.
"We have three epidemics in D.C., men who have sex with men [MSM]; those who exchange needles and the heterosexual community. The money is not spread out evenly. We have been [saying] for years that communities of color are disproportionately impacted."
The Global Village – one of the only conference exhibits that offered free admission to the general public – contained more than 120 booths that represented 90 different countries.
"I am very happy to be here, and it's an honor. I received a scholarship for my travel to volunteer on the issue of AIDS and gay rights at [the] Global Village," said Sephane Malieg, 26. Originally from Cameroon, West Africa, Malieg said that he studies at the Collège de Sorbonne, in Paris, France. He attended the 2012 International AIDS Conference as a spokesperson for AfricaGay and beamed as he distributed literature about gay pride in Africa.
An accord of hope, solidarity, awareness, and prevention united the forum's guests from around the world. Exhibits from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, South America, and the Scandinavian countries, along with aboriginal and civil rights groups showcased diversity and culture at the AIDS conference.
"Black women have to talk to their partners about safe sex and engage in a dialogue about condom usage," said Joell Royal, 29, who represented the National Council of Negro Women [NCNW]. Royal, who lives in Southeast, said the role of organizations like the NCNW should be to motivate women to take control of their bodies and their health.
"We should teach women how to stay healthy and the importance of preparing and looking toward the future, professionally and personally," she said.
In addition to speaking on behalf of NCNW during the conference, Royal also works with young adults through a multimedia project that's funded by the D.C. Office of Minority Health.
"I co-founded an organization called, 'Me @ 30', which is a project geared toward students at Historically Black Colleges [and Universities] to increase dialogue about HIV as well as to provide tips and tools around career goals. We want the students to think about where they will be at 30 and life's important choices."
A diverse and vibrant space, the Global Village fostered an exchange of ideas between people from divergent backgrounds about the AIDS epidemic.
"Politicians have the power to end AIDS. We have political demands [regarding] treatment for all and rights for all. If they [the politicians] follow those demands then change will occur. We demand universal access to treatment and the end of stigmatization of AIDS," said Richard David Stranz, who originally hails from the United Kingdom, but lives in Paris.