Congressional Black Caucus calls for national AIDS plan (FCN, 10-22-2007)

LOS ANGELES ( – AIDS activists, civil rights leaders, celebrities and organizations launched National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Feb. 7 with press conferences, free testing, education and awareness rallies and media campaigns across America in an effort to stop the spread of AIDS within the Black community.

Already high infection rates will increase if Blacks do not change their perceptions about AIDS, they said.

L-R: Hill Harper, (actor/author); Danny Bakewell, Jr., (L.A. Sentinel Newspaper); Stevie Wonder, (entertainer); Rev. Al Sharpton, (National Action Network); Phill Wilson, (Black AIDS Institute); Dr. Nicole McCann-Cross, (The Potters House in Dallas, Texas); Adai Lamar, (KJLH radio personality); launched the Black AIDS Institute�s annual report, �Saving Ourselves,� Feb. 7. Photo: Charlene Muhammad

At a press conference at KJLH Radio, Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, released its 2008 State of AIDS in Black America report, which found AIDS continues to be a “Black problem” in America: 70 percent of new adolescent infections are Black; 67 percent of new infections in women are Black; 63 percent of newborns infected are Black; 40 percent of new male infections are Black; and as much as 50 percent of Black, gay men are infected–even higher than in Africa.

“This is an emergency! Every hour of every day, somewhere in America, an African American is dying from AIDS … two African Americans are being diagnosed with this disease. Each of these deaths and infections is tragic for a host of reasons, but chief among them is that every infection is preventable. And in most cases, every AIDS case in the United States is treatable,” Mr. Wilson said.

Muscian Stevie Wonder, owner of KJLH Radio, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, actor and author Hill Harper, Dr. Nicole McCann-Cross of The Potters House church in Dallas, Texas), KJLH radio personality Adai Lamar, and Danny Bakewell, Jr., publisher of The Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper, joined Mr. Wilson to announce goals of the Black AIDS Mobilization effort.

The goals include reducing the HIV/AIDS rates in Black America by 50 percent; increasing the percentage of HIV-positive Black communities who know their HIV status by 50 percent; increasing the same percentage of Blacks in appropriate care and treatment; and decreasing the HIV/AIDS stigma in Black communities.

The effort gained momentum when national Black organizations, faith-based groups, entertainment organizations and elected officials formed a united front nearly a year ago. In addition to the National Action Network and The Potter’s House, the participants include approximately 16 organizations, including 100 Black Men, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, American Urban Radio Networks, the National Black Justice Coalition, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Black Caucus Foundation and the National Coalition of Black Pastors’ Spouses.

“Today is an amazing day because it is a day that we start to really get the word out to the community what’s going on with our numbers, which are astounding. It’s our job in whatever of this media business is to spread the word about what’s going on,” said Mr. Harper.

The organizations will work to test one million Blacks by June 2009 and facilitate HIV counseling, testing and linkages to care for an estimated 250,000 Blacks. The aim is also to provide health information and education to at least 77,000 people in Black communities, host and conduct 600 national health forums over the next year and produce 30 public service announcements.

“While we’re nowhere near where we need to be, and many more organizations and leaders must join this battle if we’re going to reach our goal, the era of Black America turning a blind eye to the AIDS epidemic is over,” Mr. Wilson said.

Activists blame the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS for the rising rates of infection. Rev. Sharpton noted people have not been honest about what they thought they knew about how AIDS originated, supposedly as a White, gay male’s disease, and that has caused a greater problem and threat to testing and seeking treatment, he said.

Rev. Sharpton called the report’s findings astounding. “If this statistic was of another race, there would be a national disaster called. The president would be calling a joint meeting of the Congress. The fact that it is Black is almost like it is at best a ticker tape news item at the bottom of the screen rather than a national disaster in which it is,” he said.

Rev. Sharpton pledged that the National Action Network will feature the report and Mr. Wilson at its national convention slated for Memphis, Tenn. in April. The meeting coincides with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

People must dramatize the issue of AIDS in the Black community and press the issue with the presidential candidates, he added.

If the mass mobilizations are successful, the AIDS pandemic can be cut in half in five years, Mr. Wilson said.

In addition, Blacks need to seek treatment, he said. Blacks are not seeking treatment, though in many communities it is affordable and accessible, said Mr. Wilson.

He was highly critical of President Bush’s last budget, saying it ignored the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., which is slap in the face to Blacks. “It is a national shame that in 2008 people are still dying from this disease in this country at the rate that they are,” Mr. Wilson said.

In Leimert Park, about 10 minutes away from KJLH studios, actor/comedian Joe Clair helped to raise awareness about the disease. He told The Final Call that he became linked to the issue when his brother became infected with AIDS in 1988. “He had a great support system and he is still living, walking around, and prospering. Once I became a ‘celebrity’ I knew I had to use my voice and I chose to reach out to young Black males,” he said.

“I mean real talk is what they need, like ‘I’ve seen people die, and it’s preventable!’ You can be a man about it and change your behavior and start thinking about other things out here other than what’s coming across the television and the radio,” Mr. Clair added.

The event drew about 100 people who received HIV/AIDS literature, counseling and testing by the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Members of the Minority AIDS Project formed a human billboard and chanted “Stop the spread of HIV in the Black community!”

Spencer Collins, of the Minority AIDS Project, said that 20-plus years into the epidemic, high infection rates signal something is missing. “A startling discovery that we made is that a lot of our youth can’t even tell us the difference between HIV the virus and AIDS the disease. Until we figure out a way to reach them on a deeper level than just passing out products, then we’ll keep losing people and getting high numbers of infection,” he said.

“Bug chasing” is a phenomenon that has surfaced over the last five years and is increasing the spread of AIDS, Mr. Collins continued. Bug chasers actually try to contract the HIV/AIDS virus to obtain benefits. But there really are no benefits, Mr. Collins said. “That goes beyond education into self love and socio-economic conditions that healthy youth are dealing with,” he said.

Richard Hamilton, chairman of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Coalition of Los Angeles, said the community needs a healing from the inside out to curb the disease. “HIV is a disease, but it also has components centering on the spirit and the mind. The physical part is about the body, but a person that is spiritually grounded will not lay down and let themselves be at risk for HIV,” he said. The work begins with continued messages of empowerment, care and information, Mr. Hamilton said. The coalition’s continuing campaign is for the U.S. government to use its billion dollar resources to help stop HIV/AIDS at home instead of proliferating wars overseas.

For more information on The Black AIDS Institute’s “State of AIDS in America” report, visit More details on the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day campaigns can be found at