Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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Breaking Down Walls

by Lilia Del Bosque Oakey Whitehouse

It’s a topic that people don’t often talk about. But HIVevolution wants to start the conversation.

The local non-profit is an HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention program, which provides education, free and confidential HIV testing, outreach, resource linkage and advocacy services to affected individuals in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

On June 1, HIVevolution is presenting “Breaking Down the Walls—Broadway Style.” The event will bring together Pensacola’s Performing Arts community to bring awareness and raise funds for a cause that’s too often pushed into the shadows.

“We are a community based organization in downtown Pensacola,” said Kimberly Brill, Outreach Coordinator for HIVevolution. “We started to think: If we could utilize our resources around us, which is our art community, what could we do?”

Patrick Rogers, the Director of HIVevolution and an ordained minister has, as an advocate, witnessed the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“HIV doesn’t discriminate—but people do,” said Rogers.

He hopes that an event featuring Pensacola’s many arts organizations will be a bridge from stigma to understanding for the community.

“As an ordained minister, I noticed, in a church setting, that what bridges the gaps is music,” Rogers said. “You might have differences but when people start singing, they all come together. And the performing arts do that.”

“A lot people don’t even think HIV exist in our area. They think it exists only in big cities, but there are thousands of cases,” he said.

In fact, Escambia County has as many per capita HIV-positive individuals as Miami-Dade County.

“It’s shocking,” adds Brill, “I don’t know that many people think about how it touches our community, but our numbers are high.”

Which makes awareness and prevention all the more important.

Jerry Ahillen, Artistic Director of the Pensacola Little Theater and Director of the event, is excited to bring the first community wide arts collaboration. For the event, Ahillen has enlisted help from performers from the Pensacola Opera, Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Shakespeare Theatre, Pensacola Little Theatre and other organizations from the Pensacola Performing Arts community.

“The event is more than collaboration,” said Ahillen, “each performance is a collaboration. It will be a mix of art. So there might a dance with a soloist singing and a monologue that leads to a flute soloist that leads back to the monologue.”

The event is more than a series of performances, it tells a story about the HIV community, bringing awareness and breaking down the walls of communication.

“The performances each have a story to tell that goes along with the subject matter,” said Ahillen. “There are so many wonderful things, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.”

“It’s about our stories,” adds Brill. “HIV is not the death sentence it used to be. These days, it’s a celebration that people are living and middle ground to honor the people that have passed. The road has been long and hard but people are living very full lives.”

The event also raises funds to support HIVevolution outreach efforts, which, Rogers said, are a dire need in the community.

“Socially, HIV is different than other diseases; it’s more than just raising money for a cure,” said Rogers. “What other disease can you think of that, when you tell your family your diagnoses, you get kicked out on the street? Could you imagine someone that got diagnosed with cancer, that happening? We would never, ever think about doing that to someone with another serious illness. But with HIV, that happens.”

“It’s just such an amazing thing to talk about HIV like this and to offer this support,” said Ahillen. “When I was growing up, there wasn’t a life. If you had HIV, that was it. You didn’t talk about it, there was no fundraising for it, there was nothing for it. And now to be at the stage where we can say, ‘You know what, we need to let people know that there is a way to deal with it, that there is help, that there is an outlook that is brighter than a death sentence,’ is just a wonderful thing.”

BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS—BROADWAY STYLE
WHEN: Saturday, June 1, 6:30 for drinks and dessert and show starts at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Pensacola Little Theater, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $20-$100, includes two complimentary drinks and dessert
DETAILS: HIVevolution.org