The new HIV infection rates, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are simply devastating. Make no mistake - this is a political issue. It is a social issue. It is both a Black community issue and a global issue. It is – for some – a moral issue. But beyond whatever label you put on it – it is a life and death issue. Either you do something about it or you don’t. I hope you choose the former. Here’s why you should.
First, in the United States alone, more than 1 million people are living with HIV and/or AIDS. So, it’s not a silent epidemic. It’s likely right in front of your face – whether it’s your neighbor, your cousin, your brother, or your grandmother – HIV and/or AIDS’s close proximity to you means that you have access and opportunity to substantively make a positive contribution to the lives of those who are HIV positive.
Second, your participation would create an opportunity for education. Among other things, you will learn from your entre into the science of the epidemic that HIV and AIDS are not medically the same. In terms of the field of medicine, HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system and can develop into AIDS. However, it does not have to. And, thanks to medical and antiretroviral advances over several years, many afflicted with the condition live ‘normal,’ healthy lives and potentially may never develop AIDS in their lifespan. True – for others, depending on the strand of infection, time of diagnosis and infection, etc. one’s prognosis may differ. But, the point is, proper education is needed so we can become better equipped with the appropriate knowledge. For the purposes of this article, I deliberately refer to the epidemic as HIV and/or AIDS versus just AIDS or HIV/AIDS because of the medical distinction.
Third, the knowledge is needed to help stifle the stigma. This stigma is present nearly everywhere a person afflicted with HIV travels. While it is not as bad as it once was when, say, the Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington movie Philadelphia debuted (which is ‘celebrating’ its 15 anniversary this week) – the stigma, however, is still bad. If many feel they can not talk about it, how well do you think they are addressing it?
Frankly, we need to fight the stigma. It must be a topic of ministers’ sermons – regularly (not just during certain holidays and events). It should have long become an issue of concern to the Urban League and the NAACP. And by concern, I mean, a proactive method of attention that includes preventative methods and serious steps at intervention – intervening in the lives of those afflicted with care and support (financial and emotional). I don’t see that. Many of our Black organizations have simply failed. And, honestly, many churches are the main culprits. Ministers need to get beyond the sexual orientation doctrines that they attribute to the epidemic. Why?
First of all – globally, more people contract the disease through heterosexual contact than through any other means. Second, the last time I checked, God asks us not to judge but to love. You can still pray for someone with HIV, attend to someone with HIV and their needs, and hold true to your doctrine, without asking how they contracted the disease, if they’re gay, etc. The fact is – you don’t need to know to care for the individual. And given the statistic I just highlighted, they likely won’t be gay, anyway.
Bottom line – HIV and/or AIDS and homosexuality are not synonyms and are not necessarily related.
While I will debate a minister theologically if he or she holds a position on sexual orientation that denies equal rights to those not heterosexual, (and I’d be happy to) - difference of opinion on religious scripture should not prevent all of us from making every effort to positively impact the lives of those who are positive – no matter their sexual orientation.
Do you know that some people with HIV hide their affliction from their friends and family, ignore treatment options, and consequently potentially shorten their mental and physical lifespan by years? Do you know that many of those individuals are Black?
As Phil Wilson, the CEO and founder of Black AIDS Institute recently said, “AIDS in America continues to be a black disease as manifested by the numbers.” Well, what are the numbers? According to the CDC, African Americans accounted for 45 percent of the new HIV infections in 2006. Yet, we are only 12 percent of the population. Among Blacks, Black women are contracting the disease at alarming rates!
A number of issues are said to be the cause for high rates of infection among Blacks – poverty, stigma, limited access to healthcare, drug abuse, etc. Well, thanks to Jack Ford – in respect to healthcare and drug abuse, he’s help to create CareNet and SASI to deal with those. Contact CareNet if you’re positive and do not have health insurance. See if they can help. If you’re a drug user, I’d ask that you do the same with SASI and other organizations like it in Toledo.
And if you’re a concerned citizen willing to help those afflicted, I beg of you to contact those organizations and others like it to see how you can.
Literally – our community depends on it. With Black gay men ages 13 to 29 being twice as likely to get infected as white and young Hispanic men – if you believe in that ‘the youth are our future,’ mantra - I ask you to ask yourself, what actions of yours help to make that belief a reality?
With Black women being almost 15 times as likely than white women and four times more likely than Hispanic women to contract HIV and/or AIDS, I ask again, where do our beliefs meet our actions?
This is not just political. This is serious. With available mental and physical treatment, many with HIV and/or AIDS can live ‘normal’ (I hate that word) and productive life spans. However, without, many will not. And, you play a role in that. Your church plays a role. The Urban League and the NAACP play a role (whether they realize it or not). Black fraternity and sorority organizations play a role. Your small book club plays a role. Everyone does.
Now, I understand that a murder in the Black community, for example, (especially by a white person, presumably) may attract our attention and touch our sensitivities. But, if these numbers as it relates to HIV and/or AIDS don’t shake your faith, rattle your conscience, give you goosebumps, or at least make you think – I’ll ask another question – would you pinch yourself? Because - you must not be awake nor paying attention!
Why is this political? Well, for starters – we need the votes of many HIV afflicted individuals to sustain a democratically based country. Second, we need policies – in government, church bureaucracy, and groups’ organizational structures - to change to make it easier for persons with HIV and/or AIDS to receive the attention they deserve. It’s also political because we can do something about it through collaborative social action.
Finally, this treatise has been a plea for every human being - African Americans, especially – whether individually and/or within our respective groups - to make the issue of HIV and/or AIDS a major concern about which we devote serious time, energy, talent and other resources. I’ve argued that our community’s livelihood is at stake if we choose to turn a blind eye. I’ve gladly called out those who choose to support stigma and ignorance over and beyond truth and knowledge – whether it’s behind a pulpit or at the family dinner table.
But, of all of this, I ask that you remember that we are all human. The commonality we share as humans – whether male or female, rich or poor, black or white, straight, bi, gay, transgender, or some other label - that commonality, I hope we will cling to as we work together to reverse these devastating CDC numbers, particularly as it relates to Blacks and the issue of HIV and/or AIDS.
If we don’t – if you don’t – actively and willingly work to improve the quality of life of a fellow human being in need of help – what are we doing?