Yesterday afternoon, the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) held a press conference in support of it’s recently published report entitled Left Behind (Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic).
Speakers on the panel included Phill Wilson, CEO of BAI; Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO or CARE; Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Jacob Gayle, deputy vice president of the Ford Foundation; Pernessa C. Seele, founder and CEO of the Balm in Gilead, Inc; and the beautifully talented Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress and activist.
In short, the community leaders criticized the American government for providing aid to foreign countries severly impacted by HIV-AIDS through the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), while neglecting a population within its own borders that has a prevalence rate higher that seven of the 15 countries receiving assistance from the program. Not to mention that each of the countries receiving aid is required to have a national strategy in place for addressing HIV-AIDS, when the U.S. itself currently DOES NOT.
This group of leaders (along with many others) is pushing for the development and implementation of a national HIV/AIDS strategy for the U.S. that will:
-- set and meet ambitious national AIDS reduction goals though measureable, sustained increased in access to effective HIV prevention and treatment
-- invest at least $1.3 billion per year to implement this strategy
-- support efforts to raise awareness about the importance of HIV screening and the utilization of treatment
-- support traditional Black institutions to develop their capacity to make AIDS a top priority and a central component of their work
Sheryl Lee Ralph, forever the diva and activist extraordinaire, was most profound. She challenged the journalists in the room to “do something different” as it relates to communicating the issue of HIV/AIDS. She stressed that we must begin to deal with the “isms” that exist within America, if we are to really make a difference.
Personally, I couldn’t agree with her more.
For it is, without question, the isms – classism, racism, sexism and homophobia – that are fueling the epidemic in Black America. She referenced an event where Hilary Clinton recently commented that if AIDS were affecting the general population the way that it is devastating Black America, there would be a national health emergency.
PREACH IT, SISTER!!!
And then, she posed a rhetorical question that I have been asking myself and others for some time now. She asked, “When is somebody gonna value black people?” She said, “I am looking to be valued as a full, complete human being. I am black. I am in the world. Look at me and stop looking past me. I need a seat at the table.”
I watched her as the room transitioned from total silence, with folks hanging onto her every word, to a thunderous applause of approval. She sat back in her seat fighting off tears, her passion and sincerity evident.
I mentioned yesterday that not being able to see myself in the CNN Black in America special made me, as a Black bisexual man, feel neglected and overlooked. And though I don’t move from that position, because it is clearly valid, I also realize that Black people in general have quite possibly internalized being neglected and overlooked and that we oftentimes perpetuate this same craziness amongst each other (such as the way that Black America itself still refuses to acknowledge Black gay and bisexual people, in and outside the context of HIV). This dynamic, I believe, is at the very core of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Black America.
Check out BlackAids.org and www.nationalaidsstrategy.org for more details.