LOS ANGELES, CA— Last Saturday (October 13, 2012), nearly 400 women of all ages joined together for Breaking the Silence, a yearly community wellness event addressing the ways in which African American and Latina women's health is impacted by personal relationships, gender and sexuality. This year's theme, "What's Self Love Got to Do with It," addressed the importance self-esteem to sexual health decision making.
“One of the most difficult challenges for women is maintaining their own health while addressing a myriad other demands – as mothers, wives, girlfriends and workers,” said Dr. Nina T. Harawa, Associate Professor of College of Medicine, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and Event Chair. “Sexual health is an important but rarely talked about aspect of this. The event is about breaking this silence in order to both highlight unhealthy patterns in our communities and to facilitate dialogue and information sharing that promotes healthier approaches.”
Featured guests included Cookie Johnson, Philanthropist, Child Advocate and Spokesperson for Women’s Health and Gail Wyatt, PhD, author of "Stolen Women: Reclaiming Our Sexuality, Taking Back Our Lives” & "No More Clueless Sex." After a clip of ESPN’s “The Announcement,” Ms. Johnson shared more about the day she first learned of Magic’s HIV infection and how and why chose to respond in the way that she did. Among the many messages she shared was a reminder to support and treat HIV-positive family and friends members with consistency, encouragement and love.
Dr. Wyatt, discussed the impact of child sexual abuse on women’s risk sexual health risks. More than 1 in 3 women are believed to have experienced sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Dr. Wyatt discussed the long-term influences of this traumatic experience on women’s mental health and risk for sexually transmitted diseases – reminding sexual abuse survivors to avail themselves of community resources for help and support.
The conference also included smaller breakout sessions in a range of interactive formats – including facilitated discussions of videos, workshops, panels, questions and answer sessions, and interactive role plays. Topics included: relationships choices, healthcare reform, bisexual men, advances in HIV treatment, HIV/STD disclosure, the art of negotiating safer sex, and talking to your kids about sex. The packed sessions found many attendees engaged in questions, debates, and moving personal shares about the topics at hand.
The program includes a vibrant Youth Track designed particularly for young women ages 15-19 years. Subtitled, “Take Charge of Your Reality! Season 2,” this year’s Youth Track was built around “reality” TV program themes and addressed bullying, peer pressure, self-image, dating, and teen pregnancy. After a number of educational games about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Keynote speaker Pastor Diann White of Overseas Ambassador for Foreign Relations for Redeemed Ministries International opened the day with an inspiring message about self-image and worth. Ms. Shani Hunter, pre-Med student ant Charles Drew University closed the day with video presentation and talk titled, “Breaking Bad, Comfortable in My Own Skin” that dealt issues of colorism in Black and Latino communities.
Since 2009, over 1100 women have attended and benefitted from the free, day-long
Breaking the Silence community events. Free testing for HIV and STDs is always provided and over 100 participants received testing this year. Additional Breaking the Silence trainings, conducted by Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center have reached 100s of providers in the Los Angeles who serve HIV positive and at-risk women.
For a number of social reasons, women of color experience higher risks for sexually transmitted diseases than do other women. Women now account for nearly 25% of new HIV diagnoses in the US, and Black and Latina women are, respectively, 15 and 5 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV as White women. Early in the HIV epidemic, most women were infected through injection drug use. Now, over 85% of new Black and Latina female HIV cases are the result of heterosexual contact.
To go along with all of the information and insight that participants left with on Saturday was a “self-esteem awareness” kit. These kits, lovingly put together by the opening keynote speakers, Shellye Jones, MSW and Zoyla Cruz, both of the Los Angeles family AIDS Network, included items such as a paper clip for “holding things together” and an eraser, reminding participants that there are times when they “just have to erase and start over.”
“The planning committee has always talked about the key role of self-esteem in empowering women make relationship choices that best protect themselves” said Dr. Harawa. “It was exciting to finally have it as our focus this year.”
Major Sponsors included: UCLA AIDS Institute, Gilead Sciences, Inc., Janssen Therapeutics, Kaiser Permanente and The California Wellness Foundation.
Community partners included: The OASIS and SPECTRUM Clinics, Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center, County of Los Angeles Public Health, Soluv Magazine.com, JWCH Institute, Inc., Holman Organized for People Empowerment, UCLA CARE Center, Jewish Labor Committee, Magic Johnson Foundation and PALS FOR HEALTH.
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About Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
CDU is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian, minority-serving medical and health sciences institution. Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU has graduated more than 550 medical doctors, 2,500 post-graduate physicians, more than 2,000 physician assistants and hundreds of other health professionals. The only dually designated Historically Black Graduate Institution and Hispanic Serving Health Professions School in the U.S., CDU is recognized as a leader in translational and health inequities research, specifically with respect to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and HIV/AIDS. Recently, the CDU/UCLA medical program was named the “best performer” in the University of California System with respect to producing outstanding underrepresented minority physicians by the Greenlining Institute. For more information, visit