Workshop talks about preventative
By Shirley Hawkins
OW Staff Writer
As the spread of HIV and AIDS continues to escalate in the African-American community, two women, Cherie Youngblood and Angela Tyler, are determined to do something about it.
The women have facilitated the SISTAS Project Workshop, a series of informational workshops to be held on five consecutive Saturdays at the Lucy Florence Coffeehouse in Leimert Park starting May 6.
“SISTAS stands for Sisters Informing Sisters About Topics on AIDS and it is a Center for Disease Control-based risk reduction project,” said Tyler, who works for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “The workshops are geared toward women and girls ages 15 to 24, but it is also open to women ages 45 and older.”
“I really felt it was important that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other outreach organizations such as the Minority AIDS Project as well as the other local agencies that work with HIV and AIDS clients should make this virus more tangible,” said Tyler. She met Youngblood, a MAP Project Coordinator, last year on HIV National Testing Day and the two launched their first SISTAS workshop at 5th Street Dick’s in the fall of 2005.
“We did e-mail blasts, walked the streets, and handed out flyers at the African Marketplace,” recalls Tyler of their efforts to publicize the workshop.
“The highest affected group of people contracting HIV and AIDS are Latinos and African Americans, and we want to provide education as well as services to the community in order to help reduce the number of people being infected with HIV,” said Youngblood.
Surprisingly, despite the notion that younger people are contracting the HIV and AIDS virus, Tyler and Youngblood said that older, married women between the ages of 45 to 65 are surpassing younger women in contracting the HIV virus.
“Most women think that marriage protects them from HIV. But heterosexual women who have boyfriends or husbands are at risk because many times, the men don’t disclose their risky behavior, which may involve sleeping with other men or indulging in intravenous drug use,” said Tyler.
Tyler added that black males who face “revolving doors” going in and out of the prison systems are especially at risk. “A lot of men contract HIV in the prisons and when they are released, they are not disclosing their previous behavior to their wives or girlfriends.” Tyler and Youngblood hope to bring the SISTAS project behind bars to incarcerated men and women in the future.
The facilitators said that the two-hour workshops contain topics like “HIV 101,” “Self-Assertiveness Skills Training,” “Behavioral Modification,” and “Coping.”
“One of the things we teach the women is to be self-assertive about their bodies,” said Tyler. “A lot of women are passive with their partners. We stress that during foreplay, they can educate their partner about the use of condoms at the same time.”
Tyler said that the response to the workshop has been tremendous. “Women are seeking information about what they can do to change their behavior and protect themselves. A lot of people fail to realize that when our men are having sex with other men, they don’t identify with the gay community because to them, sex is sex and they consider themselves to be straight, even though they have sex with other men.”
To contact the SISTAS workshop, call Angela Tyler at (323) 860-5208 or Cherie Youngblood at (323) 936-4949.