Athletes Fighting AIDS, One School at a Time | The American Word

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Athletes Fighting AIDS, One School at a Time

Kayla Flynn | 12/15/16 8:16pm
| Updated 12/15/16 8:16pm

Monique Miller /
American Word Magazine

Which country has a higher rate of HIV: Haiti or Washington, D.C.? If you answered Haiti, you’re wrong. The HIV rate in D.C. is 3 percent, higher than in Haiti and many countries in West Africa.

The Grassroot Project is a nonprofit organization founded by student-athletes in 2009 that focuses on combatting the D.C. HIV/AIDS epidemic. The goal of Grassroots is to give middle school-aged kids the knowledge and confidence to spread awareness about the issue.

Grassroots trains student-athletes from D.C.-area universities including Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, Maryland and now American University. These athletes act as mentors and use fun games to teach kids about HIV/AIDS.

Tommy Sommer is a sophomore on the men’s track and field team here at AU. He decided to get involved in Grassroots after hearing his competitors from other schools talk about how rewarding their experiences were. Sommer and many of his other teammates decided to bring Grassroots to American.

This is the first year that Eagles will be involved in the project. AU student-athletes attended four training sessions to get certified and now devote two hours a week to going into middle school classrooms.

“We go into… schools during PE class and lead games to teach the kids about HIV/AIDS,” said Sommer. “When I walked into Truesdell Middle School in Columbia Heights, the kids pretty much laughed at me and made fun of me for being a bad dancer.”

The Grassroot Project helps mold these children into community leaders. Not only do the kids learn about how HIV is contracted, the stigmas that surround it, and how to get tested and receive treatment, but they also learn how to communicate this information to their family and friends.

“Most of these kids knew very little about HIV, but every week they come back more engaged and thoughtful,” Sommer stated. “It’s incredible to watch.”

The Grassroot Project facilitates an environment where kids can become leaders of their community. It is an invaluable service initiative that is not only rewarding for the children, but also for the student-athlete mentors.