Benefit held tomorrow for HIV/AIDS education

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Lucas County has the fifth highest rate of new HIV/AIDS cases, among other counties in the state. For this and many other reasons, The Men of Color Project has been active in the education and prevention of this disease.

Based in Toledo, the Men of Color, a non-profit organization focusing on HIV/AIDS outreach and education organization, will host their first “Artists for AIDS Awareness” benefit tomorrow at the Zenobia Shrine Hall, 1511 Madison Ave., in Toledo.

The organization is an all-inclusive group that shares its doors with men and women, gay or straight individuals.

And although their project seems to focus on black men, Marlon Barbour, executive coordinator for the organization, points out the different programs available through the Mott branch of the Toledo library system that they sponsor.

“We have a discussion group for women,” he said. “We empower them and educate them on relationships, abuse and sex-related topics.”

Local talent and the community will come together at the event to raise money for future prevention programs.

“The concept for the [benefit] started off as a little thing,” said David Smith, the Men of Color chairman and co-chair of the event. “We were offered a venue [free of charge] on Erie Street as a showing area.”

And that venue turned into a jazz benefit concert that aids in the advancement of the organization’s programs.

“We are not grant-funded anymore,” Smith said, “It is a necessity to keep working.”

The Men of Color began because, “there were no programs dealing with minority issues [in Toledo],” Smith said.

According to Smith, the Men of Color now wishes to expand their program to include much more educational information than that on HIV/AIDS.

The Men of Color are presently involved in educating selected communities on the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Interacting with those in or just released from Toledo’s prison system is one way the group relays the facts.

“It is a known fact that an inmate is seven times more likely to transmit the HIV/AIDS to a significant other [after they have been released from prison],” Barbour said. “We show them videos and give them quizzes afterwards,” he added.

In addition, The Men of Color hosts monthly book clubs, health fairs and Lupus screenings.

In December, the group will offer a meal to those who are “HIV-challenged,” paid for with proceeds from tomorrow’s benefit. Working hand-in-hand with the American Red Cross, Smith said that the group is always looking for new members. Although at times, according to Smith, it seems easier said than done. “It is hard opening doors to black churches,” he said. “People have to realize that dealing with AIDS is a health issue, not a moral issue. It is hard for the community members to look at it in those terms.”

Editor’s Note: Tickets for the benefit are $50 and can be purchased by calling David Smith at 419-841-2801 or the American Red Cross at 419-329-2900.