From left to right: Laney College President Dr. Elnora T. Webb; Tori (a finalist who the judges critiqued as promising); Braunz Courtney, who served as MC and is Program Manager of HIV Education and Prevention Project; and Dean Marco Menendez.
Randell Thompson is a college student who is working to reduce the incidences of HIV/AIDS in young people. He has dedicated himself to educating fellow students about health risks and how to protect themselves.
Today, people under the age of 25 account for half of all new HIV infections each year. Within that group, African Americans are 56 percent of those who become infected.
Thompson says in the year he has attended Laney College in Oakland, he has witnessed male students’ ignorance and denial of HIV risks, especially their nonchalant attitude about unprotected sex.
Thompson said he knew he had to take action when he heard young African American male students say, “Only gays get HIV,” a perception he himself had until 10 years ago.
It was only when he started seeing reports of African American women and African American heterosexual men coming infected that the epidemic hit home for him. After hearing a speech on leadership by Laney’s President Dr. Elnora T. Webb, he made the decision to do something
He realized he needed to increase awareness on prevention methods such as use of latex condoms. The best way to educate people would be to bring to campus speakers who are living with HIV so students could gain real-life examples about the importance of prevention, he said.
“Young people of today have grown up in a world where HIV is taken for granted,” Thompson said.
“Many college students are unaware that they are at risk for HIV and it’s prevalence,” he said.
Thompson came up with a concept to mix HIP Hop music and HIV education. The American idol type of format worked, attracting over 150 students, with more than 50 testing for HIV for a free ticket to the show.
Webb, who has been Laney’s president since 2010, said she fully backed the Hip Hops AIDS education event.
Students and faculty “pulled this off, leaving my job simply to say yes to this and that,” she said with a smile.
The AIDS crisis affecting the Black community in Oakland is alarming, she said, “But events like this leave me feeling a little less distressed, because they are an example of “our community being responsible, choosing to help one another and addressing this very challenging but manageable condition together.”
The HIP HOP for HIV event was held on April 12.
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