Rapper Ludacris urges wider HIV testing

Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges urged students at George Washington University to “save some lives” by getting tested for HIV on World AIDS Day, Friday Dec. 1.

The 29-year-old Grammy-winning rapper said the topic is of particular importance in the nation’s capital, where the rate of AIDS is the highest of any U.S. city. About 3 percent of D.C. residents have tested positive for the virus, according to the District’s HIV campaign.

Ludacris described his recent trip to South Africa and said that children with AIDS there touched his heart. He said the experience made him want to alert the public of the pandemic, which is commonly spread through sexual intercourse.

Ludacris said that “everyone talks about sex,” but in his music he tries to address complexities of life.

“Even though I talk about sex (in my music), I definitely practice safe sex,” he said.

Ludacris said he took advantage of World AIDS Day to do his part as a celebrity and “lead by example.”

“Kids don’t listen to their parents, but they will listen to my music,” he said. He urged listeners to “be a part of the solution, not the problem” by getting tested for HIV.

Ludacris finished his four-college tour in Washington, D.C. after speaking at UCLA, Northwestern and Columbia. His appearance at George Washington University was organized by the national organization YouthAIDS and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

“I respect Ludacris for putting himself out there, for being open to criticism, and also for caring enough about this cause,” said GW sophomore Mike Rossetti, the school’s vice president-elect of programming. “Every little bit of action taken against AIDS and HIV is both welcome and necessary.”

But some students called his appearance a publicity stunt with little substance.

“This is great in terms of a marketing campaign, but there seems to be a disconnect between celebrities and people working in the field,” senior Emily Wall said. “Nothing he said here pushes the envelope. He doesn’t want to talk about the government’s role? I would expect Ludacris of all people to push this beyond (a politically correct) level.”

GW senior Simone Garreau agreed. “There is a lot lacking here,” she said. “If I show up to this and they tell me to Google stuff, then what’s the point?”

Students were excited to see Ludacris on World AIDS day, but they were generally disappointed by the rapper’s performance. When asked why he is focusing on AIDS, he answered, “I know that today is World AIDS day, so I am just taking this time out particularly to join forces with YouthAIDS and talk about this particular issue, you know next week it might be something else.”

“The event didn’t seem to take itself seriously,” said senior Rose Hickman. “They didn’t answer questions about the U.S. government or anything. GW is a political university in D.C., it’s important that they speak to us about politics and especially about (the government’s role).”

World AIDS Day was also commemorated with free HIV testing in the university’s student center. Over 100 students were tested between 1 and 3 pm on Friday.

“It is a testament to the GW community and the need for free, comprehensive testing that so many students showed up today to get tested for HIV,” said Erin Hohlfelder, a GW junior and member of the school’s Student Global AIDS Campaign.

Late in the day, about 200 people rallied in front of the White House, where some participated in a civil disobedience demonstration.

During the demonstration, 22 people – including seven GWU students – crossed Pennsylvania Avenue dressed as doctors, pill bottles and syringes.

The protestors locked arms and sat down on the sidewalk in front of the White House, violating their permit and prompting the U.S. Park Police to surround them. After a few minutes of yelling across the street to other participants in the rally, the 22 protestors were arrested one-by-one and escorted away by police.

Lindsay Wheeler, a GW junior and leader of the school’s Student Global AIDS Campaign chapter, was one of the students arrested.

“It was very empowering to be standing strong with 21 other protestors and have hundreds of people across the street cheering us on,” she said. “It was a huge success. We wanted to kick off the next year of making demands of the U.S. Congress to deal with the issues and take action.”

Participants in the rally included students, members of the public and various organizations from across the country.

The groups waved signs while yelling such slogans as, “What do we want? Money for AIDS. When do we want it? Now!” The rally aimed to draw attention to the need for health care workers in Africa and to demand public funding for needle exchanges in Washington, D.C. and universal access to AIDS medication.

YouthAIDS is an organization devoted to HIV education and prevention for youths between the ages of 15 and 24. It is a branch of Population Services International, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. that addresses health issues worldwide.

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