Black HIV/AIDS awareness helps in stopping the deadly killer that has become a pandemic. Raising awareness of HIV/AIDS on a national level keeps the conversation and need for awareness a priority, giving hope to those currently living with the disease. It also helps those who wish to remain HIV free. Included in these numbers are children not yet born. At the close of 2009, it is estimated that 250,745 African-Americans died from HIV/AIDS; this does not account for those who had not been diagnosed. In order to decrease the pandemic, education and personal responsibility remain key factors in protecting millions of people.
Founded through a collaborative that includes five national nonprofit organizations, black community leaders continue to work by bringing attention to a pandemic that can be ended through education. With funding gained in 1999, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a call went out on the national level in 2000, to address the growing numbers of African-Americans disproportionately infected with HIV. The three areas of concentration were “Get Educated, Get Tested, and Get Involved.”
Until 2000, the focus and face of HIV/AIDS had primarily been white gay males. Men who sleep with men (MSM) who had been infected with HIV died as a result of complications from AIDS. New York City was the spotlight from the early 1980s, and continues to be a hub drawing gay youth and young professionals to its city lights and its acceptance of gay life.
In the meantime, little was being said and even less done by the U.S. government to stem the tide of HIV cases that was rapidly spreading in African-American communities among gay and transgender populations. Thrown to the side even more than infected men were African-American women who were being infected by their male partners. Men returning from prison who did not identify as gay were infecting their wives at home, and new sexual partners, without concern. These men who did not self-identify as gay had only used prison sex as a means of survival.
Renee Fulgiam Douglas, 47, lives in a suburb outside of Detroit, MI. Douglas takes care of herself with a specific plan for sexual health: “Out of concern for my reproductive and sexual health I insist sexual partners use condoms even if we are in what is considered a monogamous relationship.” Proactive measures like the one Douglas uses can help thousands of people, women in particular, to reduce new HIV cases.
A shift occurred with the recognition of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which celebrated its 14th anniversary Feb. 7. Black organizations became invested in stopping the deadly killer, by offering hope and reducing the numbers of deaths from HIV/AIDS. Getting people to talk about the devastation suffered in communities of color is a main thrust of awareness. At the start of the millennium, barriers started coming down slowly, with black communities taking it upon themselves to address HIV/AIDS through avid testing programs that popped up at parties with themes like, “Partying with a Purpose,” in city parks with mobile testing units, and other places where youth, and particularly gay youth, hang out. Mobile sites offered free testing, along with incentives that spoke to the urgency for people to be aware of their status and use safe sex practices if they were sexually active.
Black churches were silent for decades, and AIDS victims shamed for living lifestyles that did not promote Christian values. But they slowly came on board to at least acknowledge that a problem existed. Today, more progressive religious institutions have programs that address HIV/AIDS although there are still far too many who take advantage of their nonprofit status as faith-based entities. For example, they do not allow guest speakers to talk about condom use as a means of prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. This is tragic, as HIV/AIDS is 100 percent preventable.
Churches are not the only organizations that can do more in stepping up awareness and prevention. Government agencies that house youth have been notorious for turning a blind eye when youth residents under their care test positive for sexually transmitted infections and diseases. The government simply ignores the fact that youth are engaging in sexual behavior or do not act accordingly to ensure youth are safe. Programs that teach youth life skills are simply not allowed to discuss safe sex or condom use in many arenas.
As explained by the founders of National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, there are four cornerstone tenets to eradicating HIV/AIDS: education, testing, involvement and treatment. African-Americans have to be educated on what HIV/AIDS is, and know that if one partner is sexually active, risk is a factor. People need to understand the benefits and necessity of getting tested. Involvement means knowing that HIV can affect anyone regardless of financial background, economic security, and how little or often sex is engaged in. Treatment has to be available and affordable for everyone.
Reaching out to those living with HIV/AIDS by showing love is humane. Shaming is not. Having self-love means having the courage to demand ongoing communication with sexual partners. Choosing sexually partners wisely and testing frequently are individual responsibilities. The HIV/AIDS pandemic can be slowed and future generations protected. Black HIV/AIDS awareness helps to stop the too often deadly killer by encouraging self-love and responsibility, love of community, and healthy living.
By C. Imani Williams