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Poet has reason for rhymes BY ASHLEY FANTZ firstname.lastname@example.org Last year, college student Devin Robinson went to a seminar about AIDS that was hosted by the Florida Department of Health. And he was bored out of his mind. ''I couldn't relate to what they were telling me; it just wasn't hitting,'' he said, pulling at his baggy Nautica shorts and impatiently tapping red and blue Converse sneakers. ``It was like these old people trying to talk to me about sex . . . and using statistics.'' A year later, this relentlessly energetic 21-year-old theater major is bringing the AIDS message to young people in his own way. He travels the country, using his original spoken-word poetry to talk about AIDS in a vernacular that appeals to a generation of Americans who don't remember when AIDS was a death sentence. He has written about 10 monologues. Characters include a self-professed thug, a convict who has had sex with hundreds and contracts HIV, a 15- year-old amateur boxer who gets it from a groupie, a college football player who develops a drug habit. In one bit, Robinson performs two characters at once, a conversation between a husband and wife about their secret HIV- positive status. Robinson leads about 30 other aspiring rappers, actors and singers in the AIDS Awareness Poets, a student club he founded at Palm Beach Community College. Members have attended Red Cross HIV training sessions, handed out AIDS pamphlets and condoms to club-hoppers along Clematis Street in West Palm Beach and organized free testing on campus. ''I think you have to kind of be there, right where people live and work and go to school to get them to think and do something about AIDS,'' said PBCC sophomore Shyndine Moore, 19. ``I think that was the first time some of my friends even thought about it.'' Robinson's mother died when he was 12, and he was raised in Lauderhill by his older sister. About the same time, his father left, and a scattering of cousins and nephews moved in. No family member ever gave Robinson ``The Talk.'' Meanwhile, Robinson and his friends set out ''to have as much sex with as many girls as possible,'' he said. ``HIV was not on our minds. I didn't think it was that big, it couldn't happen to me, it was only people in Africa.'' For them, AIDS was synonymous with the healthy image of Magic Johnson, the 44-year-old NBA legend who announced he was HIV-positive in the early 1990s. 'You know, you'd look at him and think, `Well, that dude looks great. He's playing ball. He's not sick,' '' Robinson said. He got involved with AIDS education as a member of the Florida African American Student Association at PBCC. But the dry recitation of facts did not move him. HORRIFIC TRUTHS In the statistics are horrific truths: At the end of 2004, the World Health Organization reported that HIV afflicted about 1 million Americans with more than 5,000 infected in Florida. The state ranked second in the nation, according to the latest report from the Florida Department of Health in 2002. Worldwide, an average of 39.5 million suffer from the AIDS virus and infections are increasing in people younger than 25. Abstinence has become a small trend. More than a million teens are members of the Silver Ring Thing, a national Christian organization that advocates teenagers wear a band, pledge faith in God and promise not to have sex before marriage. For a year, Robinson has resisted having sex. ''When I wake up, it's in my face -- sex in videos, rappers on the radio telling me all about the booty,'' he said. ``I feel like I gotta set an example.'' SOFTENED RHETORIC At his friends' urging, he's softened his rhetoric about abstinence, and now includes frank discussions of condom use. As a result, AAP and Robinson are sought after by South Florida gay and lesbian groups, and made recent appearances at the Ryan White Youth Conference in Nashville, Tenn., and the National Youth Leadership Council Conference in Long Beach, Calif. It performed for about 100 public school students at an annual teen summit sponsored by Planned Parenthood of South Palm Beach and Broward County. ''When I first got into sex education, I realized it doesn't matter how professional I am or what I know, I am still a grown-up to my students,'' said Richard Siegel, adjunct sexuality professor at PBCC who helped organize the all-day event at Pompei Park in Delray Beach. ``Kids speak to kids, and they listen to Devin.''
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