HOUSTON—More than 15,000 young adults were treated to a free concert just for "knowing their status." The fourth annual Hip Hop for HIV concert was held Saturday, July 31 at Houston’s Reliant Center.
The concert was free to the public, but with just one catch—attendees had to be tested and educated about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, including Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
The concept started when former State Representative Borris Miles reached out to other prominent figures in an effort to combat the rising HIV and AIDS epidemic in the African American and Latino communities. He collaborated with 97.9 The Box and the City of Houston and an idea was formed to provide a free concert for those willing to be tested.
Clinic sites were spread out across the Houston area offering free testing to anyone between the ages of 13 to 40 years old, and thousands flooded the clinic for the opportunity to see their favorite performers for free.
"We did not know how big it was going to be when we first started," said the Madd Hatta, host of 97.9 The Box’s Madd Hatta Morning show. "The sad thing about it is we are going to have to continue to do it because the problem is growing."
In order to get the "golden ticket," they had to go through a four-hour process of being tested, getting educated and getting referred to the proper medical professionals, if needed.
"What I love about the program is not only do they get tested, they get educated," Hatta said and added the ticket is not received until the status is known. "No, you are not just going to get tested and walk away with a ticket. You have to go through the whole process and after you know your status, your access is granted."
Dr. Rani Lewis, the St. Hope Foundation, said she teaches the young that HIV and AIDS can hit anyone and is not a gay, white man’s disease as many originally thought.
"This is not a disease where you have to be black, or gay, or poor to catch—you just have to be having sex," Lewis said. "What this event means to me is that we’ve finally gotten that message out."
Organizers said the concept has been accepted and is growing by the year.
"This year we are so excited because we exceeded our goal by far. We are extremely impressed that the kids came out, are comfortable with the brand Hip Hop for HIV and are willing to be tested," said Marlene McNeese-Ward. "Year after year we are so amazed by the generosity from the Hip Hop community. Many of the artists participate for free or next to nothing."
And those artists say they are committed to the project and are more than willing to do their part to get the word out. Some were blunt and simply said those having sex need to use caution.
"Strap up at all costs," Houston rapper Paul Wall said. "You need to protect yourself, wear condoms to have safe sex and, of course, know your status." When asked if Paul Wall knew his status, "for sure," he said with a glittering smile.
Texas rap legend Bun B of UGK summed up best the importance of the event.
"Hip Hop for HIV is letting the world know that the Hip Hop community is taking a stand in the fight against HIV and AIDS. We offer our time and services and all we ask is that people get tested, become aware and know their status so that if they are not positive, they can take the steps to remain negative. But if they are positive, then they need to know what steps to take in order to ensure a longer life."
Bun B said he has been a participant since the beginning and will continue until the end.
"I have been with this event since the inception, and as long as people want to see me on stage and hear me rap, I will continue to participate in this event."
Other performers included Plies, Lloyd Banks, Dallas Blocker, the Party Boyz, Papareu, Z-Ro and Just Brittany.