Courtesy: New York Times By Caitlin Gibson, Published: July 24
The six young performers had just two weeks to write the play. The short production would be their chance to share their life experiences before an international audience, a rare opportunity to show people far outside their community what it’s like to come of age in the District.
They were asked: What does it mean to grow up in a city with one of the nation’s highest HIV-infection rates, among uninformed teens having casual sex? What does this global problem look like in the city hosting the 2012 International AIDS Conference?
Ky’Lend Adams, 17, wrote about a woman at church who was shunned by her community when it became known she was HIV positive: “No one would sit next to her. . . . Everyone kept their distance, like they’d die if they got close.”
Terra Moore, 25, told of the challenges of romance as a transgender young adult: “I’m afraid to become intimate with anyone, which is a deal breaker for most men in the city.”
Angela Hughes, 19, questioned a public-education system that doesn’t address sex until after most kids are having it: “I didn’t take my first sexual-education class until 11th grade.”
All six have faced their own struggles, including Davina Smith, 23, who married at 16, had a daughter at 17 and split from her husband at 19. Now a single mother living in Baltimore, Smith said she didn’t learn much about sexual health or HIV until she first visited Metro TeenAIDS, a nonprofit HIV advocacy and educational organization in the District, as a young adult.
Their play, “Pulled Apart,” the result of a partnership between Arena Stage and Metro TeenAIDS, chronicles lives that largely go unseen and issues that often go unaddressed.
On Monday afternoon, as thousands milled elsewhere in the conference’s Global Village, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the performers rehearsed in a quiet, enclosed corner. In the midst of a massive and diverse event, where much of the discussion and discourse would focus on public policy and complex science, the D.C. natives weren’t sure what their performance space would be like or who would come to see them. But they adjusted their choreography and perfected their lines, getting ready for the moment to tell their stories.
Young people are playing an increasingly prominent role in the fight to end the global epidemic, said Emily Carson, 22, youth program coordinator for the AIDS conference. This year, about 3,000 people under age 30 — a demographic that represents half of new HIV infections worldwide — will participate in the event, Carson said.
“This will show the international community that we are stakeholders in the epidemic,” she said. “They’re going to make the leaders in the District and the rest of the U.S. look at HIV as a United States problem.”
The staff of Metro TeenAIDS knows all about the impact of the virus in their community. The group’s 45 peer educators — people between 14 and 20 who are employed and trained by MTA to conduct weekly community outreach efforts — come mostly from the District’s low-income neighborhoods. They are active in schools and community centers, on the Internet, on street corners. Many integrate their work into their personal lives, stopping by MTA’s Eastern Market headquarters to pick up pamphlets and condoms on the way to a party or a club. Last year, they reached more than 28,000 teens and young adults, according to MTA.