Cafe Cultura's Rise Up! offers free HIV and AIDS testing this Friday

The hardest part about getting tested for HIV and AIDS often isn't the test itself; it's the anxiety surrounding the whole experience. For the last three years, Cafe Cultura has set out to ease that tension by offering free testing in a comfortable atmosphere.

In honor of National Women and Girls HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, Cafe Cultura will hold its third annual Rise Up! event this Friday, March 9, at the Denver Indian Center, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. The night will bring the power of art and activism -- nationally renowned vocalist and MC Kiawitl Xochitl and slam poet April Chavez are due to perform -- together with free, confidential HIV/AIDS testing in a safe and supportive environment.

"We create a positive space for youth to express themselves in," says Cafe Cultura's Vanessa Delgado of the organization's mission. "We wanted to combine the space that we create with a health component."

While all are welcome at the event and urged to take advantage of the free testing, Rise Up! was created specifically to support Latino and native women. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease control provided by Café Cultura, females account for more than half of all HIV/AIDS infections worldwide, while Latinas and Native American women have among the highest rates for infections in the United States. Friday night's gathering will target young people, because they often go undiagnosed in the early stages of the disease.

Wondering how testing works in a public place? There will be discreet areas for one-on-one testing, where participants can get immediate, confidential results. This rapid testing method -- which has about a fifteen-minute turnaround time -- is key to Rise Up!'s success.

"With other tests, what often happens is people may have to wait up to two weeks, call back or give personal contact information to get results, and can get lost in the shuffle," says Hannabah Blue, spokeswomen for National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, which is providing the tests. Blue also stresses that in the event of a "reactive" result (tests are not considered conclusively "positive" or "negative" because a doctor is not present), participants have the option to leave through a back exit, to keep the testing experience safe, personal and secure. But they won't be sent out the door alone: Cafe Cultura and the NNAAPC will have mental health, medical and social-work professionals on hand to guide and support with all appropriate resources.

Friday's Rise Up! gathering will also be in honor of the upcoming Native People's HIV Awareness Day on March 20 -- which was adopted unanimously by Denver City Council earlier this week, after being presented as Proclamation 185 by Councilman Paul Lopez.

Rise Up! is suggesting a $3 donation at the door, but testing is free, and no one will be turned away. For more information on Cafe Cultura, visit www.cafecultura.org and www.nnaapc.org, the site of its testing partner.

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