AIDS in DC: Turning Anger Into Action

In the nation's capital, a 24-year-old is helping to lead the fight against AIDS.

Nicole Styles is doing what she can to stop a major health-care crisis — an epidemic, even. This AIDS activist is stepping in where parents, educators and the government have failed, devoting her life to handing out condom kits and trying to persuade people to use them.

Styles is trying to save the lives of kids in the nation's capital, home to the worst HIV/AIDS rate in the country. One in 20 D.C. residents are infected with HIV, and in some neighborhoods, that number is as high as one in 10.

Styles thinks that when these staggering numbers were announced, a state of emergency should have been declared. Instead, she and many others in D.C. suspect that the government's seeming indifference is because 80 percent of those infected are black and most of the others are gay.


Styles believes that if the disease affected white heterosexuals at a rate of one in 20, the city and federal government would have more of a response.

"It would be all over the place. It wouldn't be difficult to obtain information about HIV and AIDS," she said. "You wouldn't have to have us standing on every corner trying to get the people, passing out stuff trying to let the community [know] about what's really happening."

'Some People, They Don't Do Anything'

Styles' anger and compassion motivated her to join the staff of Metro Teen AIDS, an activist group that offers free and confidential HIV testing and counseling services to youth.


Arnita Michelle Wilson has the unenviable job of informing people when they test positive.

"Some people cry," Wilson said. "And those are the good ones because they're acknowledging that they have to do something. Some people, they don't do anything, they just stare, they look at me."

Christopher Barnhill was 16 when he got the bad news. Born and raised in D.C., Barnhill dreamed of becoming a successful lawyer.

But his dreams became complicated after he went to a health fair in D.C. and was hounded into taking a HIV test. Barnhill tested positive and was in disbelief.


"The reaction that I had was kind of like 'can you repeat that again?'" said Barnhill, "because I was kind of in a state of shock."

Barnhill worries he may not live as long as he would like, but maintains a positive outlook.

"I can't spend my days just worrying about when I'm going to go," he said. "I need to spend my days worrying about how I'm going to live and how I choose to l live."

'They Just Don't Want to Talk About It'

Barnhill said that the disease has a stigma in the black community and that the unwillingness to talk about it contributes to the high infection rates.


"They just don't want to talk about it," he said. "I mean that's the reason that the rate in the [black community] is so high. Because they just don't want to talk about it. They're more likely to sweep it under the rug and [talk] about it later, but they have to realize that talking about it later is not going to help anybody."

Styles said that D.C. schools need to do a better job of educating students about the disease.

D.C. schools begin teaching about HIV/AIDS in the 10th grade, when most students are 15 or 16 years old. But Styles said the average age of first sexual contact is 13 years old, so by the time they are taught about the disease, it's too late.

Last month, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Shannon Hader to be the city's HIV/AIDS czar. She is the third person to head that beleaguered agency in the last two years.

Hader last fought AIDS in Zimbabwe; unfortunately her expertise is what the nation's capital now needs.