Monday marks the 11th anniversary of Black AIDS Awareness Day–an annual commemoration that calls upon Black people to take action against HIV and AIDS.
Nobel prize winner Andre Gide once said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” The fact that America’s AIDS epidemic continues to rage in Black communities and families, suggests that this thought could apply here. According to a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation study, 58 percent of Black Americans know someone with HIV/AIDS, and for 38 percent of us, that “someone” is a close personal friend or family member.
But, rather than rehash statistics describing the magnitude of the epidemic and its disproportionate impact on Black women, youth, injection drug users, and men who have sex with men, I’d like to ask you to think about the people in your life who are at risk of HIV, who are living with the virus or have already died of AIDS.
This week, I’m thinking about my friend Reggie Williams, who passed away 12 years ago on the date that now marks Black AIDS Awareness Day. I used to call Reggie my “brister”–he was both brother and sister to me. He was the person I went to when I needed to talk about my life without having to explain myself. He didn’t need a glossary to understand my words, when I talked about the difficulty of having a partner living with HIV or the challenges of living with HIV myself because my truth was his truth.
Reggie was a remarkable leader. We co-founded the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, and he was instrumental in not only raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic among Black gay men, but in sounding the alarm on the AIDS epidemic in the Black community at large. He was one of the first people who understood that, if Black gay men and intravenous drug users were dying from HIV, Black women and Black children were dying as well.
Eventually, Reggie moved to the Netherlands where he demonstrated his skills and passion on the international stage.
Reggie died in Amsterdam in 1999; yet I miss him every day.
Before he died, I promised him that I would not stop until this epidemic was over.
So between now and Monday, Feb. 7, think about someone that you know who has been impacted by the virus or could be. There is someone in your world, who would benefit by your decision to take a stand.
Phill Wilson is the president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. He can be reached at PhillWilson@BlackAIDS.org.