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Youths' HIV photo exhibit at Dolphin Mall

An art exhibition at Dolphin Mall showcases a summer project completed by local young people living with HIV.

The Miami Herald
ROBERT SAMUELS, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The 30-some pictures set at Dolphin Mall are of natural life: a small, gray bird drinking from a fountain. A yellow fire hydrant. Sunset in Miami. And close-ups of different roses, some closed and others in full bloom.

But the simple things tell a more complex story. It is one that weaves the wonders of science with the curiosity of youths born with five fingers, five toes and the virus that causes AIDS.

"My life isn't really that different from yours," said Quintara Lane, a 21-year-old from Miami Gardens who was born with HIV. "It's just my immune system is a little weaker."

Each year, the University of Miami's KOOL Kids program -- a support group for young people born with HIV -- is given a project, such as a car wash or a bake sale. This summer, they received Nikon point-and-shoot cameras.

"Photography was a good project because it's like any other type of art," said Kimberly Green, president of the Green Family Foundation, which sponsored the camera project. "It's like art or music. You see it or you hear it, and you try to understand someone's life."

The best pictures of the 600 submitted by the young people will be displayed in the mall for the next month. Then the exhibition will travel to different places over South Florida, hoping to inspire dialogue about young people born with HIV.

A crowd of 30 or so members, relatives and supporters on Tuesday christened the exhibition. Some passers-by stopped to listen to a group of four young men rapping: "If I could paint a picture, a perfect picture, there'd be no more HIV."

For Lane, one of few willing to openly discuss her health, the project was an outlet to express what life is like: There is the fear of stigma and days of intense sadness or sickness. But it seems as natural as a green lizard walking on the grass, as commonplace as a fire hydrant.

"It's like the flowers," Lane said. "You never really notice us until we open up."

Lane was raised by her grandmother in Miami Gardens.

She remembers taking 32 pills a day when she was a child, and how her friends shunned her when she disclosed her condition. They didn't want to play with her or be in the same pool with her, she recalled.

Now Lane takes only three pills a day.

It's a similar story for many children born with the disease, said Ana Garcia, a professor of pediatrics who helps to organize the KOOL Kids program.

Their generation has benefited from improved science and continued research. Once, birth with HIV or AIDS meant a short life.

No more.

Two-thirds of the 300 young people Garcia works with are 13 or older. Sixty-two are 18 or older.

"They're going to college, they're growing up," said Garcia. "When they meet, they talk about normal teenage things -- jobs, school. Sometimes the virus never comes up."

Lane thanked the small crowd for coming. And then the KOOL kids ended their night like many teenagers end a night at the mall: chatting over hamburgers at Johnny Rockets.

Video Links

http://video.mww.com/GFF/WPLG%20KOOL%20Kids%209.10.wmv

http://video.mww.com/clientdirect/WPLGKOOLKids_9.10.wmv

http://video.mww.com/clientdirect/WTVJ_NBC10.9.07.wmv