Project Ark brings themes of empowerment to HIV education

Looking as fashionable as Carrie Bradshaw herself, Sarah Hudson did her best to rouse the attendees of the second annual Sex and the City Women’s Empowerment Event.

The event, sponsored by Project Ark, was held on March 9th at the Youth & Family Center on Cass Ave in honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDs Awareness Day, which falls on March 10th every year. The group in attendance was on the small side – between 20 and 30, perhaps due to a last-minute change of venue – but Hudson, who has worked in the sexual health field for eight years now, says events like this are filling a need.

“I’ve realized that there isn’t really a lot of awareness around HIV,” she said, remarking that last year after the event, many people thanked her for hosting a function like this one, which seems to be lacking in St. Louis. In welcoming her guests, she told her own story about sexual empowerment, stating that, “Empowering others empowers yourself.”

The evening featured three speakers who each had their own take on the night’s themes. Unlimited, a local poet and spoken word artist, performed two poems, “Boss” and “One Night Stand.”

Tabasha Hollman, a life coach by profession, acted as the motivational speaker, repeating the mantra, “Thank God I don’t look like what I’ve been through.” She lead the group in an exercise, having each person define themselves with an “I am” statement, such as, “I am fearless,” “I am strong,” and even, “I am who I am.”

Keynote Speaker Kneeshe Parkinson talked to the crowd about her struggle with HIV. Parkinson received a positive HIV diagnosis when she was just 17 and was originally overwhelmed and hopeless about what to do. But she eventually found her way back to work and took control of her story. Now, she works as an activist and the Missouri State Lead for the Positive Women’s Network, which advocates for women living with HIV.

Parkinson spoke about her struggles but reminded the group, “Your diagnosis is your own.” She also took some questions from the crowd in a brief Q&A.

The event also boasted 13 vendors, lining the hallway to show off their products. Some were health-oriented, some sold accessories, and some even sold clothing.

Along with educating its guests, Project Ark offered free HIV testing for the women (and men!) who were in attendance on Saturday.

Hudson said she was pleased about being able to reach people with this function, especially because, she said, often people are thrown off by medical diagnoses because they aren’t in an American vernacular – and because people often think they already know a lot more than they actually do about HIV and sexual health in general.

As to what she hoped women would take away from the Sex and the City event, she said they should, “have the freedom to express [themselves] and enjoy sex to the best ability but be safe. Definitely be safe… Just being educated and owning it.”

Samantha Auch

Author: Samantha Auch

Sam Auch graduated from Knox College, where she studied Theater and Gender Studies. Outside her work with The Northsider, she works as an actor, playwright, and artist. You can found out more about her at her website thisisauchward.com

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