World AIDS Day Zumbathon! (Know, Act, Engage and Support)

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The instructors take a timeout to pose. (Ronald Cobbs, Memories Media)

Aids Zumbathon an inspiration

This past weekend I turned up at a World AIDS Day charity event. We were dancing (Zumba) to raise funds. Little did I know that it was about a lot more than that, and I came away feeling emotional, inspired and energised, as well as very sweaty.

The World AIDS Day Zumbathon®! (Know, Act, Engage, & Support) was hosted by ZFittnessMDs and held at the Supreme Sports Club of the Columbia Association. The event was led by Dr. Allison Agwu, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins, a lady with a commanding presence and genuine passion about breaking down the stigma of AIDS.

 She told the crowd information that had my draw dropping….’Nearly 50,000 Americans become infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) every year. Baltimore and nearby D.C. are experiencing an explosive HIV epidemic.

‘Baltimore ranks 10th and D.C. ranks 5th among U.S. cities with the highest HIV diagnosis rates.

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Working it. (Ronald Cobbs, Memories Media)

‘Our goal is to raise awareness, education, and funds for a local charity that is having an impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic while shaking it with Zumba! The aim is to bring a variety of organizations in the Baltimore-D.C. area together to promote awareness, education, testing, and to support an organization that is working to impact the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our community.

‘Last year we raised more than $2,000 for a local charity! This year I hope we can do even more.’

World AIDS Day (1 December) is the focal point of the World AIDS Campaign. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as to show their support for people living with HIV and to honor those that have died from the disease.

We danced for 90 minutes. Yep, a continuous Zumba® Fitness workout (Latin-inspired fitness class for participants of all fitness levels) and it was fantastic exercise. Participants were also encouraged to take advantage of the HIV screening that was available.

But the bit that totally got me going (yes, I welled up…) were the testimonials from speakers infected and affected with HIV.

A 70 year old woman, Marilyn Burnett, told how she contracted the disease from unprotected sex 22 years ago. She’s been living with the disease ever since. You know, she looked amazing and she spoke from the heart – her advice: don’t have unprotected sex. She was an inspiration to those who live with AIDS.

A young man, Tavon Vinson, told how he had been jabbed in the knee by a needle and became HIV positive that way. He said, ‘I thought – oh my gosh, I’m dying and I’m black and I’m gay…’. He filled the room with laughter and hope, and he danced alongside us with energy and passion.

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Workout. (Ronald Cobbs, Memories Media)

The charity benefiting from this Zumba® session that I took part in was La Clínica del Pueblo (LCDP), a D.C.-based 501(c)(3) organization. The reason they were selected? Because Hispanics/Latinos progress to AIDS faster than any other racial or ethnic group with 42% being diagnosed with AIDS within 12 months after learning of their positive HIV status.

We were told that….’through its HIV Case Management program, La Clínica aims to diminish these health disparities. Navigating the health care system can be vexing for many of La Clínica’s clients and those that are afflicted with HIV or AIDS can find it even more difficult to receive the services they most need. La Clínica not only provides the medical assistance that HIV positive patients require, but gives HIV medical case management to help bridge the gap between medical and social services. This service can be on a short-term or long-term basis and is offered to qualifying patients.’

You can find out more here.

The other wonderful thing about yesterday’s Zumbathon was that dancing in that room I suddenly realised for one fleeting moment that I was very white and very European and, whilst I am a Zumba instructor, I don’t have the natural hip thing going on, but who cares ‘cos I can bust a move and I have energy and athleticism and I work it! But, you see, Zumba takes you to a place where no one cares where you are from, what you look like, the colour of your skin, what your background is, how you speak, what your job is, or even how you move. Just as long as you are having fun, working up a sweat, and, in this case, helping a great cause.