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October 31, 2005

Rosario Dawson: From Tenement to Tinseltown

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Raising Consciousness About HIV/AIDS

It's now midday at the farm, and Dawson's group has been riding all morning. Tired and dusty, they dismount and lead their horses back to the stable. Spett's squad of volunteers has set out platters of sandwiches, bowls of fruit and a mound of assorted cookies. Sitting around a table shaded by oak trees, the group eats and reflects on their time in the saddle.

Talk jumps to the movies, to school, to family and friends. Dawson asks the kids what they do in the Housing Works "Summer Youth and Enrichment" program they participate in. "You take a test about everything there is to know about AIDS," explains Joslin, "and if you pass, then you become a peer educator and go to schools and community centers to talk to kids your age about AIDS." Joslin is proud of the influence the program gives her and the responsibility that comes with it. Although "abstinence only" programs have risen in prominence lately, no one at the table thinks they're particularly effective. "Kids are having sex," stresses Anthony, "so if you don't give them information, they don't know how to protect themselves. When I told one of my friends you can get AIDS from oral sex, he was shocked. He was like, 'What?'"

Dawson hopes Rent will raise consciousness about HIV/AIDS and prompt everyone ‑- from kids to adults ‑- to talk about the disease. "I really want this movie to reach as many people as possible," she says, "because it features people who aren't normal protagonists, like transsexuals and people who are HIV-positive. You care for them because their humanity shines through."

Suddenly, Dawson's cell phone starts playing the Chaka Khan song "Ain't Nobody." She silences it, then smiles. "Ain't Nobody," it turns out, is the personal ring tone assigned to her boyfriend of 16 months, Jason Lewis. "We met through a friend and went on a double date to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," recalls Dawson of Lewis, the hunky actor who played Samantha's boy toy Smith Jarrod on Sex and the City. "From the day we met, it's just been perfect. He's become my best friend, and we're so supportive of each other. He's wonderful."


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