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MINNEAPOLIS - In accordance with World AIDS day, activists gathered at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis to shine a spotlight on HIV/AIDS prevention on Sunday.

In an event especially targeted to the African American community, the message was delivered with a purpose.

"In my opinion, for African Americans every day is World AIDS day, because the numbers are so high increasingly in our community, locally and nationwide," said Sandy Johnson, a Minnesota Department of Health Disease Investigator. "Get tested, know your status early. Do not let someone like me, a representative, come and let you know you know you have been exposed."

Johnson organized the event as a state disease investigator who sees more and more cases in her own community.

An estimated 7,516 people are reported to be living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota. An average of 300 new infections are diagnosed each year.

Centers for Disease Control health officials estimate that one in five persons living with HIV don't know that they are infected and are unknowingly infecting others. The rising reality also hits a younger crowd.

"I have them as young as 15," said Val Brown, who tracks HIV positive teens and young adults as a case manager for the University of Minnesota's Youth and Aids Projects.

"African born and African Americans make up 5 percent of the population here in Minnesota, but if you look at who is HIV infected we make up 34 percent of that population, so the disparities are huge," she said.

Advocates push for more education in the African American community, encouraging people of all ethnicities to put the stigma of the disease behind them and "know their status."

"When HIV first came out there was a real push in educating gay white men about this, but heterosexual black people have not been educated as well," said Brown.

The event was in memory of local AIDS activist Sarah Simmons who believed in that mission. Organizations also offered free HIV testing.

More than 200 countries worldwide annually observe World AIDS Day, now in its 25th year.

State health officials also emphasized disparities in the Latino and American Indian Communities and will offer free HIV testing in those communities this week.

  • Monday, Dec. 2, La Clinica, 153 Cesar Chavez St., St. Paul (8:30 a.m. - noon) and East Side Family Clinic, 895 E. 7th St. St. Paul (1-4 p.m.): World AIDS Day HIV Testing Event
    The "No Tengas Miedo" program will provide free HIV testing for the Latino MSM community. Walk-ins welcome.
  • Monday, Dec. 2, American Indian Community Housing Organization, 202 W. 2nd St., Duluth, MN 55802: World AIDS Day Event (3-6 p.m.)
    Free HIV presentations, HIV testing and food.
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