In the 1990’s there was a heightened awareness for HIV and AIDS. There were benefit concerts, commercials, tons of “wrap it up” campaigns and particularly in the African American community, there were celebrities that were impacted as well. Notable names like Arthur Ashe, Eric “Eazy E” Wright and Magic Johnson grabbed the attention of the community, giving a recognizable and relatable face to the disease. But what happened over the years? Do we still approach the topic with the same sense of urgency? Is it directly related to the fact that the scientific developments have given us hope that HIV doesn’t mean the end of the world? News Flash: HIV is still the virus that causes AIDS and people are still dying worldwide due AIDS-related complications every. single. day.
I recently read a sad, but not-so-shocking news article about a coach sentenced to 15 years in prison for knowingly infecting a player’s mother with HIV. Of course, my heart sank. Not for him, but for the mother. Unfortunately, this is just ONE story that captured the media’s attention. It’s actually quite a common phenomenon. Now, this “lovely gentleman” in the story knew that he was infecting AND affecting people’s lives forever., but, what about those don’t know they’re even carrying the virus? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 2008 statistics, there are more than one million people living with HIV in the U.S. One in five of those people are unaware that they are even infected. Now, get this….We (African Americans) only make up 14% of the U.S population, but we make up almost half (46%) of the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. Why? That’s a highly debatable question. From conspiracy theorists about this being a man-made disease, serving as a type of genocide, to being called a curse and total damnation of the “wicked”, our focus should also be, now where do we go from here?
As a Black woman, I know the things that go on in some areas of our community that could stand to be changed. There are some issues of denial, feelings of invincibility, lack of education, and the disproportionate male to female ratio. Let’s not forget the ever-so coveted and popular “player” culture that is revered in our society and amplified through all mediums: songs lyrics, news stories, and simply by generational hand-off. Its real. Sad, but real.
Whatever the angle of the argument is, the truth is, we rank first when it comes to these alarming statistics. What does it take for us to realize that HIV and STDs PERIOD can potentially kill you? We know to wrap it up and ask questions before you “go there”. We get that it does dampen the mood a bit, but just the slightest possibility of that the “ten” that you met in the club, or that attractive and educated brother in your Singles’ Ministry at church, could potentially change your life as you know it. These thoughts should make you take a few more seconds to protect your assets, but the heat of the moment, can cause you to have an altered mental status – well known fact.
As far as awareness is concerned, I always say that I wish we would put at least half as much effort, time and dedication into HIV/AIDS awareness as we do causes like Susan G. Komen – Race for a Cure. I’m by no means knocking this initiative. I am a supporter. I just don’t see nearly as many red ribbons out there, amongst the sea of pink ribbons. In the world we live in today, this should no longer a taboo topic nor thought of as a “same sex disease”. As I mentioned earlier, the statistics are staggering, and we still need to shed more light on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, even in the 21st century. To shed light means we are becoming knowledgeable. Becoming knowledgeable, as we all know, means becoming powerful. To become powerful, we become unstoppable and UNINFECTED!
On a refreshingly good note, there are still some voices out there, that are sounding off on the need to get tested, ask questions and live. Check out this video directed by BMWK’s own Lamar Tyler and performed by Tray Chaney from HBO’s The Wire. The video for “LIVE – World AIDS Anthem,” was shot on location in Atlanta at the Aids Memorial Quilt.