FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- The first day of December is World AIDS Day and a local man is encouraging people in the River Valley to become educated to get rid of the stereotypes that surround the disease.
"I have been HIV positive for 29 years," Belva Freeman said. "I left [Fort Smith] in 1987 for the Bay area and returned in 2004. Since my return, I have yet to see a celebration in Fort Smith on Dec. 1 for World AIDS Day."
With a red ribbon pinned to his shirt, Freeman hopes to raise awareness about the disease with many misconceptions.
"It's up to you," Freeman said. "AIDS is not a death sentence today."
Freeman said he wants people to realize that those living with AIDS look just like everyone else.
"Would you believe I'm HIV positive?" Freeman asked. "You can't tell by looking. What is the face of HIV and AIDS today? It's not somebody who is sick and drawn up. You can live many years with HIV and AIDS."
Freeman contracted AIDS by sharing needles during drug use in the past and with the increasing drug problem in Fort Smith and surrounding areas, he wants more people to be aware of the risks.
"We all know that meth is a problem here in Sebastian County alone and Crawford [County]," Freeman said. "The rate of HIV infections has tripled in the last three years here in these two counties."
Freeman encourages people to become educated about AIDS in hopes of lowering the number of people who contract it.
"All we have is an education that we can give our kids that will stop the spread of HIV and AIDS," Freeman said. "We are being outdone by Fayetteville, Little Rock and all major cities in the state. Fort Smith needs to wake up."