ST. LOUIS – On the 34th annual World AIDS Day, people across St. Louis honored those living with HIV by educating others and spreading awareness. 

For many, World AIDS Day is a time to reflect, educate, and empower, especially those who have lost their fight. 

“You could be dancing with someone in the club on Friday and by that Wednesday or Friday be carrying their casket to the grave,” said Jordan Braxton, prevention supervisor for Vivent Health. 

Those not only living with the disease but thriving have come a long way. 

“I honestly could not have imagined 25 years ago that I would have been here 25 years later,” said Lawrence Hudson-Lewis, director of prevention for Washington University’s “Project Ark.” 

Several events were held throughout St. Louis on Thursday as part of a day of action to combat AIDS, including a short film at the Contemporary Art Museum on the struggles many faced. 

“It’s not a done deal yet. Until there’s a cure, we’re not quite done with it,” Hudson-Lewis said. “So, we do have more stories that are unfolding, different narratives that need to be told because different people are there.” 

Nearby, art was once again used as a unifier and catalyst for conversation. 

“It definitely is an icebreaker,” said Vanessa Frost, an art exhibit attendee. “It’s very important to give back to your community, and to see young Black artists at work, it’s just all great to see.” 

“Knowledge is power, the more you give to them, the more they’ll sit, and they’ll respect it,” said Willie Strayhorn, an art exhibit attendee. 

According to the most recent data from 2020 on the St. Louis City website, 3,422 people in the city and 2,552 in the county have AIDS. 

That is why experts say testing is so important. 

“Within six months of you getting your diagnosis and taking your medicine, you can be undetectable,” Braxton said. “It’s all about education.” 

Even though people with the disease faced stigma and discrimination, advances in medicine and changes in public opinion have led to major breakthroughs. 

“Knowing your status is sexy,” Braxton said. “Just remove the stigma, be couragable, be knowledgeable, educate yourself, learn about the symptoms of STIs, learn about the symptoms of STDs, just be educated.” 

Even when it is not World AIDS Day, the city gives everyone free at-home testing kits, so they can check for HIV. The kits can be ordered by the community at www.takemehome.org

According to city officials, since being added in 2021, more than 1,080 at-home test kits have been distributed.