Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been recognized annually on Dec. 1 as a way to unite people globally in the fight against HIV and AIDS, while commemorating the lives of those who have died of the disease. 

Elon University’s SPARKS peer educators hosted World AIDS Day Cabaret in collaboration with the Gender & LGBTQIA Center as a way to honor those who have died from HIV and AIDS through music. SPARKS peer educators, according to SPARKS’ website, are a team of Elon students that provide health-related programming and serve the university community as health resources to support the well-being of their peers. 

Elon senior and a SPARKS team leader Lily Blake introduced and emceed the second annual cabaret. The songs performed were written by or about people with HIV/AIDS. SPARKS also provided safer sex supplies, resources and information to attendees. 

“I think to the wider community, this event really just means coming together and celebrating those who have been affected by HIV and AIDS through music,” Blake said. “I think music is such a powerful art form just for fulfilling all of the things really, but I think especially when it comes to raising awareness and also just destigmatizing AIDS.”

Elon junior and SPARKS team lead Sophie Padalecki said for her, tonight’s event was not only a way to honor those who’ve lost their lives to HIV/AIDS but serves a way to educate the campus community about how the virus is transmitted and the devastation of the disease. 

“I think with reaching peers, it's kind of hard sometimes to find a way to connect to people,” Padalecki said. “SPARKS has found in recent years that art is a really great way to reach a lot of different people because it speaks to people in a different way that reading a flier can’t. Music touches people in a different way.” 

According to data from UNAIDS, 40.1 people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since 1981, and in 2021, 38.4 million people globally lived with HIV.

Blake said she has been working in peer sexual health promotion since she was a junior in high school, and when she heard about SPARKS, she knew it was something she wanted to be involved in. 

“I am so passionate about making comprehensive sex education available to everybody,” Blake said. 

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “equalize,” and Blake said events like the cabaret help spread awareness and end the stigma.

“I think especially the theme of this year's World AIDS Day is really prevalent,” Blake said. “Just making sure that we are always doing the work necessary to increase accessibility to HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment medications, and making sure that people are aware of getting tested, so that that's something that they can do to keep both themselves healthy and all of their partners.” 

Students can find STI testing at the Alamance County Health Department free of charge or at Student Health Services for a cost