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Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture

South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN)

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In 1986, DiAna DiAna, an African American hairdresser with a small salon in Columbia, South Carolina, felt compelled to take action when a local newspaper refused to run an advertisement for condoms. DiAna, who had no formal training in public health, began to use her shop as a space to engage customers, mostly African American women, in conversations about why they should care about and practice safer sex. She designed a distribution system to provide free protection—a basket full of gift-wrapped condoms available free to any of the shop’s customers who wanted them. While the artist who drew the posters displayed is unknown, the style typified DiAna's approach to AIDS prevention. DiAna firmly believed in the empowerment of community members so that they saw the epidemic as a problem they could take action.

Soon thereafter, DiAna met Bambi Sumpter (now Gaddist), a public health educator studying for her PhD, at an AIDS workshop. The two women promptly formed the South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN), putting their experiences and studies into action. The fledgling organization initiated a full-scale campaign to use popular culture to entice people to think about AIDS prevention. They wrote plays, sponsored talent shows, and held Tupperware-style parties with prizes that could be used to make sex safe. Always lighthearted in approach but conveying a powerful message, SCAEN insisted that southerners, particularly African Americans, needed to understand the pleasurable benefits of safer sex and the risks of being unprotected. Despite the good work of this grass roots campaign, in 2012 South Carolina was one of the top three states in the nation with the highest numbers of HIV diagnoses in teens.