You literally could have heard a pin drop on the basement floor tiles at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Tuesday evening.
The silence occurred when it was dared that anyone living with HIV make their presence known at an HIV awareness forum sponsored by the Augusta NAACP Youth Council.
All eyes focused on Joeron Williams, 44, as he strolled to a podium and revealed he was diagnosed 12 years ago with the virus that causes AIDS. A former drug user, he speculates that's how he contracted the disease.
Jasmine Streeter, 17, joined about 25 teenagers who attended the forum.
The Harlem High School senior said the program was enlightening because after seeing Mr. Williams, she now realizes "that affected people can look very normal and that living with the stigma is unfair."
Sandra Wimberly, a health educator with the state's East Central Health District, said Augusta area AIDS cases are increasing, with 80 percent deriving from the black population.
Georgia has the 8th highest number of cases of the nation's 50 states, she said.
"People can no longer afford to be afraid to be tested," Ms. Wimberly said.
The audience also applauded WAGT-TV reporter Liz Hill who agreed to be tested while on-camera. She self-administered an oral test kit which involved placing a swab between her cheek and gum.
Oral tests results are usually available in two days, Ms. Wimberly said.
Mona Gordon, youth adviser for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the program "was educational and helped break down myths" about the disease.
Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.