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All-Encompassing Approach to Commemorating National HIV Testing Day Pulls Community and Campus Together for a Worthy Cause

July 2, 2014

Volunteers test Baltimoreans for HIV at annual City Uprising Block Party and Health Fair.
 Volunteers test Baltimoreans for HIV at annual City Uprising Block Party and Health Fair.

Derek Spencer, Executive Director of the Institute of Human Virology’s (IHV) JACQUES Initiative, set out this year to make the 6th Annual City Uprising Block Party and Health Fair all-encompassing by holding it on a Saturday, to allow both the maximum number of diverse volunteers to participate and those most vulnerable to attend. As a result, an incredible collaboration between churches, nonprofits, as well as faculty, students, staff and health care providers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore touched hundreds of lives on a single June day.

On June 28th, more than 500 people were tested for HIV. 30  were persons living with HIV who were offered linkage to HIV care and supportive services. Additionally, more than 1,700 units of service were provided and delivered by a diverse group of University of Maryland faculty and students, the STAR TRACK Adolescent HIV Clinic, Baltimore Legal Aid and other local service providers to include linkage to health care, blood pressure screening, healthy lifestyle education, medication counseling, case management services, oral cancer screening and oral health education.

Religious leaders, like Pastor Eric King of St. Matthews New Life United Methodist Church, opened his heart and church for the fourth year in a row to serve the community and support the initiative. 

“We started getting involved as a site and with congregation members volunteering because we saw the need for HIV testing in the East Baltimore community,” said King. “I believe that before you can ever help save a soul, you have to help save a life.”

Other churches involved included Payne Memorial AME, Gallery Church of Baltimore, Unity United UMC, First & Franklin Presbyterian Church and the local faith-based non-profit, HopeSprings. 

In addition to the widespread community support, the vast array of University of Maryland students and faculty paints its own story of school-wide pride and participation. 

“We have been working with the different schools within the campus for some time, working to find ways to integrate the students into what we are doing at IHV’s JACQUES Initiative,” said Mr. Spencer. “Each student and faculty member has a unique role he or she can play in reaching out and making a difference in the lives of those impacted by HIV and other chronic health issues. The coming together of all the departments is impressive and shows the commitment we have to our community.”

Dr. Valli Meeks, Associate Professor of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences and the Director of the PLUS program at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UM SOD), has been working with those in the community over the last 25 years to provide continuous care for HIV patients. This is the second year that UM SOD has participated with IHV’s JACQUES Initiative. 

“Our dental students love the opportunity to serve during City Uprising and the experience working first hand with the community,” said Dr. Meeks. “Our focus wasn’t just screening for HIV, but providing those that visited our station with a full oral examination to see if there were any gum diseases or oral cancer. I’m so very proud of our students, as they don’t come with preconceived stigmas about the individuals from the community. They have big hearts and a desire to learn how to best serve those living with HIV.” 

Nursing students also participated in the exciting day of events. Second-year students involved in the nurse practioner program are required to take a specialty course that provides them an opportunity to participate in City Uprising. 

“Through our second year specialty course, our family nurse practitioner students get the opportunity to work with those living with HIV,” said Hazel Jones-Parker, Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing and Director of Clinical Education at the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology AIDS Education and Training Center. “Our students feel that their involvement in City Uprising helps them see this disease for what it really is and hear the countless stories of people that contracted HIV through no fault of their own.”

In addition to assisting with HIV testing, Dr. Jones-Parker’s nurse practitioner students provided nutrition counseling, blood pressure monitoring, as well as other forms of testing. 

While the fact that nursing and dental students were involved just seems to “make sense” for this type of event, campus participation didn’t stop there. Law students from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law participated in City Uprising, too. Third-year law student Brian Bajew got involved to gain experience in working with individuals living with HIV/AIDS, so he could better understand the facts and myths surrounding the illness.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to become better acquainted with a part of our culture that is otherwise largely shaped by myths and rumors,” said Mr. Bajew. “As a future attorney, it was a valuable experience to work with individuals who are in need of legal assistance and whom I might very well represent one day.”

Ryan Steidl, JD/MBA Candidate 2016, shared that City Uprising was offered as part of the law school’s summer clinical program in an effort to offer more to the City of Baltimore, providing a chance for law students to gain professional interaction with other disciplines, engage with underserved persons, and assist in providing comprehensive services to the communities.

“[During City Uprising], I primarily helped with intake and assisting persons in properly filling out all of their forms,” said Mr. Steidl. “I also assisted in compiling and organizing all completed forms at the end of the day so that the information could be used for understanding the results of City Uprising. I would recommend UMB students be a part of City Uprising to experience how other disciplines must learn to work more efficiently together, and to understand one another in order to address the multiple and complex needs of underserved persons.”

The daylong initiative touched the lives of many, but not just those coming for help. Law students like Ryan and Brian, and the countless other students and faculty from multiple disciplines, lent their talents and specialties to impact a population that needs support and understanding. 

To be a part of this exciting movement taking place across the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, contact Alexandra “Allie” Reitz  at  to see how you can participate in events like this one throughout the year.