April 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm EDT | by Tyrone Ford
Clinic to honor Miss America for HIV work

Caressa Cameron won the title of Miss America 2010, beating 53 other beautiful and talented contestants. Cameron performed Beyonce’s tune “Listen” during the talent contest and took on youth obesity by encouraging parents to “get our kids back outside” by limiting their exposure to television and video games. Also known for her extensive HIV/AIDS awareness and education platform, Cameron was recognized by Congress in 2007 for her work in bringing instant-result HIV testing to Virginia.

With the crown comes great responsibility; Cameron will travel about 20,000 miles per month reaching all corners of the country during her reign as Miss America. She will further her personal platform regarding AIDS in America by headlining multiple speaking engagements and she will act as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network.

Cameron will receive the Partner for Life Award for her “contributions in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” at Whitman-Walker Clinic’s 17th annual spring gala, “Masquerade on the Mall.” The black tie event will be held on Friday, April 23, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW. All proceeds will benefit HIV/AIDS services at Whitman-Walker.

DC Agenda spoke with Cameron about her platform related to HIV/AIDS and what she feels is the best way to reach out to America’s youth on prevention.

DC AGENDA: What gave you your start in raising awareness for HIV/AIDS?

CARESSA CAMERON: In 1995 my uncle passed away of AIDS when I was 8 years old. I didn’t understand what AIDS was at the time, but my family cared for him and all I knew is that he was sick. About three weeks before his death I was watching a video of a vacation that he took us on to Disney World, I wanted him to watch the video with me so I called him into the room, not knowing how hard it is for someone that close to death to [get] out of bed. Somehow he managed to get out of bed and came into the room and began to cry because he couldn’t see the video because he’d started to lose his vision. It was then that I understood the devastation this disease could [have on a person and a] family.

DC AGENDA: You took a big part in the HIV/AIDS awareness group in Fredericksburg, Va., after your uncle’s death. Can you talk about your involvement?

CAMERON: My mother founded the FACES Project in 1999. She went into schools and churches that would let her teach HIV/AIDS education and not only from an abstinence-based standpoint but also the importance of protecting yourself and risk reduction. I would go with my mother and talk about my loss and how HIV/AIDS had affected me.

When I was 16, I was able to do a speech on my own for the first time. After graduating high school I took over my mom’s position and started doing college tours and high school tours.

DC AGENDA: As a young woman, why do you feel those of your same age group reached out to you with their questions about HIV/AIDS?

CAMERON: Because they were my peers, people were willing to ask me the questions they didn’t want to ask their teachers or someone considerably older. I think they were receptive to me because I was closer to their age, and I still am.

DC AGENDA: Did you find you ran into obstacles when you were speaking at various high schools?

CAMERON: Definitely. There were plenty of schools that would send me a list of what I could and could not say. I would have to then find the “correct words” that would get the message of what I had to say across without actually saying the words I wasn’t permitted to use. I would rather not go to a place that tells me I can’t talk about the things like HIV and not to discuss condoms to young people because they need to know all the facts. It can be difficult to please everyone but I do try to find a way to say what I need to say because it’s not fair to withhold any information. A lot of the time young people will use the information they’ve been given to make the critical choices, because the issue is so much bigger than just saying “No.” Everything needs to be talked about.

DC AGENDA: You are the first Miss America that has had HIV/AIDS as a platform since Kate Shindle in 1998. Why do you think that is?

CAMERON: A lot of people within the pageantry community and the church community said my topic was too heavy and that I would never win as Miss America because people were not ready to hear a message about HIV/AIDS. I didn’t change what I had to say because I knew it was necessary and I wanted to continue to provide my voice.

DC AGENDA: What do you feel is the best way to reach youth on the topic of HIV/AIDS protection and awareness?

CAMERON: I would have to say social media, like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. So many young people are really into Facebook, for example, so it is the perfect way to reach out and educate.

DC AGENDA: HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects the African-American community in the United States, what are your thoughts on that?

CAMERON: HIV is entirely preventable in most cases yet it is an epidemic affecting the African-American community and particularly women. As an African-American woman, I hope to be a role model. I hope to use my voice in as many ways as possible and encourage people to be empowered so they can make healthy decisions so that HIV can be stopped in this country as a whole.

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