When Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010, was eight years old, she watched her uncle die from AIDS while he lived with her and her family. This experience, coupled with her family taking in a foster child also living with AIDS, made choosing the disease as her personal platform an obvious choice.

SHOCK AND AWE—Students from Faison Intermediate and Westinghouse High School learn about the effects of STDs.

“Since I was nine I’ve been volunteering with AIDS,” Cameron said. “As I got involved I kind of took it on as one of my crosses to bear.”

On Oct. 13, Cameron, 22, brought her platform, “Real Talk: AIDS in America to Pittsburgh for Reclaiming our Youth through Community Connections III: Focusing on Girls and Young Women.” The symposium, hosted by Educating Teens about HIV/AIDS incorporated, exposed young women between the ages of 12 and 19 to the harsh realities of the disease and virus.

“A lot of the problem is some people have lost hope because they think there’s no point in talking to (young women) because they think they know everything,” Cameron said. “One of the biggest injustices we do is we don’t think they’re old enough to critically think. I think they do listen and I think they heard me.”

AIDS is the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25 to 34. Girls represent 51 percent of the 15 to 19 year olds infected with HIV and 65 percent of these girls are African-American.

MISS AMERICA 2010—Caressa Cameron is one of only two Miss America’s to wear a special AIDS red ribbon crown pin. (Photos by J.L. Martello.)

Cameron, of Fredericksburg, Va., talked to the young women from Faison Intermediate and Westinghouse High School about the traditional dangers associated with HIV/AIDS, but strayed away from typical scare tactics. Instead she tried to emphasize the value of their choices and how what they do today can have negative consequences for the rest of their life.

“We have to put as much effort into character-building as reading math and writing,” Cameron said. “We are not teaching young women the power they have over their lives. They are more than just video vixens.”

Prior to her pageant win, Cameron served as coordinator of Youth Services for the Fighting the AIDS Crisis with Education and Support Project. In a one-on-one interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Cameron discussed why she thinks the Black community and especially African-American women have been hit so hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Because HIV was viewed as a strictly homosexual disease and because of the negative view of homosexuality in the Black community, that’s how there is such a disproportionate number of HIV infections among African-Americans,” Cameron said.

During her national tour Cameron has kept in touch with national HIV/AIDS initiatives including President Barack Obama’s latest campaign illustrating that every nine and a half minutes another person is infected with HIV. While she is excited about the prospect of this new initiative she would also like to see the government take the lead in ensuring more effective sex education in schools.

“That is the one area I think we fail in is sex education. That’s way too important an issue. One thing I’d like to see is that maybe there would be some programming to send someone out to teach that portion of schooling,” Cameron said.

In her position as Miss Virginia, Cameron spoke at more than 40 middle and high schools and has continued her campaign since winning the Miss America crown. She also designs a jewelry line benefitting HIV/AIDS and will be completing her degree at Virginia Commonwealth University upon completion of her year of service.

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