More than 100 people gathered in the auditorium of University of Michigan Museum of Art Friday night to attend the third-annual “HIV Monologues,” an event which held the goal of increasing awareness and defeat stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS through the presentation of poetry and personal testimony.
At the beginning of the event — which was presented by the University’s chapter of the National Council of Negro Women — LSA senior Shannon Palmer, vice president of NCNW, shared why spreading knowledge about HIV was important to NCNW and relevant in present day.
“We really brought it (HIV Monologues) to campus to bring awareness to HIV epidemic and to educate our fellow students on campus,” Palmer said. “We acknowledge the fact that HIV does disproportionately affect all people, but especially African Americans.”
The event featured seven poetry performances on HIV contraction performed by students such as LSA juniors and siblings Micah and Mariah Smith, who performed a poem written by someone whose mom dated a man who had HIV/AIDS and never told their mother.
“Why didn’t he show her any respect, because AIDS soon took her life,” read their poem.
Rackham student Will Beischel said in an interview he attended the event because the topic is personally relevant.
“I think a lot of the time HIV is kind of reduced to people getting it from being promiscuous or drug use and things like that which, you know, HIV is a much more varied story than that,” Beischel said. “A lot of the stories presented tonight were about love, and relationship and violation of those things, so I think it’s really important to hear all of those perspectives.”
The poems presented focused on different aspects of living with and contracting the disease, including growing up with AIDS and how actions with someone one night can create feelings that affect the rest of one’s life with the contraction of HIV/AIDS.
“I am writing this to you today so you can share with others, tell people that getting laid, is not the same as a lover,” read a poem presented by LSA senior Javon Shell.
After the poetry performances, Leseliey Rose Welch, deputy director of the Detroit Health Department, spoke. Welch began by discussing her research in South Africa regarding pediatric HIV, and touched on some of the reasons why this problem exists and what the world community can do to in order to combat the spread of the disease.
“I had been on that job (in South Africa) for less than two weeks before I had gone and come back to find the baby that I saw the day before not there,” Welch said. “And one moment crystallized in my mind forever … watching this mother cry over her baby’s crib. And realizing that that mother was crying not because the medicines to save her baby didn’t exist, but because she had no access to them.”
The symptoms of this problem had several causes in South Africa, Welch said.
“They weren’t missing awesome doctors in South Africa in 1998; they were missing the power, the money, the resources, and politics was preventing saving lives,” Welch said. “It’s not HIV, it’s the world. What that really means is that we are our own problem at this point.”
Welch’s presentation examined the problem of HIV/AIDS in the United States and why we still have a problem with HIV/AIDS.
“We are here because of a false hierarchy of human value,” Welch said. “That really is at the crux and the root of every ‘-ism’ we know how to describe. This idea that my life is more valuable than yours, or yours more valuable than mine.”
Welch included possible strategies to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS, and suggested that no one concrete solution will be the end-all to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“I think the only thing that will get us there is love, and love in a social, political sense,” Welch said. “Love from the top down and to our core and a love that transcends the differences that we see and don’t see.”
Welch ended her speech by reading two poems, the first of which discussed the pain of knowing one has HIV and the second centered on the topic of activism along with the refusal of “-isms.”
Business junior Arjun Kaushal found value in the topic being presented in this manner, which worked to create a broader awareness.
“People oftentimes think that HIV/AIDS isn’t here because they’re not seeing it,” Kaushal said “when in fact it’s here, and it’s on our campus.”