Belinda Quarterman stood with around 20 other people inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center when a speaker asked who in the audience knew someone who is HIV positive.
Some of Quarterman’s kids sat beside her on the bleachers at 1028 NE 14th St., Gainesville. The mother of five agreed that speaking openly about disease, violence and bullying at events such as Saturday’s Road to Zero block party was important to the community and its youth.
“Some kids don’t have mentors in their life to get this kind of information,” she said. “It’s something that everybody should know, needs to know.”
The event, now in its second year, was started by Gainesville Police Officer Jacques LaFrance Jr. The 26-year-old said he wants to prevent issues he found prevalent among the city’s youth, including drugs, violence and sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
He said he wants to see negative statistics decrease, as has happened with violent crimes, which decreased 4.5 percent from 2012 to 2013, he said. The event’s name highlights that intent — to decrease negative statistics to zero.
“We’re getting the word across,” LaFrance said. “If one kid retains one thing from this event, then I did my part.”
The event’s audience peaked at around 180 people inside the recreation center, where participants shimmied to a DJ’s set, volunteers offered free STD testing and information booth managers handed out literature on health resources, support groups and political candidates.
A slideshow next to the dancers displayed positive messages along with bullying and STD statistics.
Around 50 people at the event took tests for HIV, getting their results in about 20 minutes, or took tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea, for which they’ll wait two weeks for the results, said Shantrel Canidate of Alachua County’s Minority AIDS program.
Last year, the Florida Department of Health ranked the county fourth in the state for STDs, with 8,452 reported cases since 2008.
Sitting on the other side of the center from Quarterman and her family was Dorothy William. The Gainesville resident joined her great-grandson and his aunt, her granddaughter, for the event. William said she heard information she and her kids never heard as adolescents.
“This teaches kids stuff they wouldn’t normally learn,” William said. “And it’s fun for me too,” she said while watching her great-grandson, Tylan Webb, run by.
Tylan, 7, had won a lollipop for playing a game at Alachua County’s Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center information booth.
The event gave the center and other groups a chance to meet and speak with kids in the vulnerable 16-24 age range, booth manager and victim advocate counselor Cassandra Moore said.
She explained to a group of teens that relentless texting could be considered as much harassment as affection, she said.
Playing in Moore’s booth game, Tylan taped the words “being nice” to a board listing positive traits for healthy couples, next to “communication” and “honesty” and away from listed negative traits such as “jealousy.”
“That’s a good thing,” he said to explain his choice.