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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – 1.7 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have been infected with HIV. Crowds of people showed up Saturday to support National Black HIV and AIDS awareness day rally; to educate the younger generations.

They cheered for awareness, for informing others about prevention and for Actress and Activist Sheryl Lee Ralph to be a part of it.

“HIV and AIDS is a national epidemic and the only way that we’re going to be able to take control of that is through early education so we think that it’s important for our student to be made aware of the risk and how also they can protect themselves,” said Michael Jackson, Public Relations Director.

The HIV and AIDs youth rally at Columbus Middle School was sponsored by Project Lace up and Project 2020 Dropout Prevention. It’s a topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly and it’s all about reaching out to the kids and spreading awareness early.

“It is important when you give kids the proper information you will see that they will make much better choices for themselves,” said Sheryl Lee Ralph, HIV activist.

“Not a lot of people well not a lot of African Americans know about this and it’s just ok to be informed about it. Just basically speaking about it and learning more about HIV awareness,” said student Lakiya Lash.

Columbus Middle School cheerleaders performed HIV prevention cheers and the choir also had their piece. One student says learning about it helps her make the right decisions.

“It’s really important because it influences me, tells me not to out there and have sex without protection and all that, and wait until marriage. Get a check up and if you want to have sex always use protection,” said student Keshala Williams.

For activist Sheryl Lee Ralph it’s all about making that small difference.

“If you can keep one young person from contracting gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, all the diseases that are treatable, beatable and preventable, if you can do that, than today is very important,” added Ralph.

In 2010, there were about 6200 cases of gonorrhea reported in Mississippi. Of that number, about 4300 of those diagnosed were ages 15-to-24.

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