I write this letter based on my affected but not infected status. I write this letter because I would like to initiate a discussion about HIV/AIDS in the Black community. I write this letter, because of the impact this disease has had on both my life and my family’s lives.

When I learned about the disease in school, I thought that it only affected injection drug users, homosexuals, prostitutes and those who lived in the Third World. It was not until my own uncle was diagnosed with AIDS that the disease and its impact became a reality to me. I saw the physical manifestation of the disease on his tall frame–the dark dry skin, lesions and his dramatic weight loss. I heard the thick mucosal cough and saw the despair and fear in his dark brown eyes.

The doctors were preparing for the worst, because the disease had progressed so far that the medicine they would normally give patients with his condition would have overwhelmed his system.

At that point, my family was faced with an important decision. We could either prepare for a funeral or put our faith into action and ask God for a miracle. Fortunately, we chose the latter. We united as a family and actively participated in my uncle’s healing and resolved to beat his health challenge. In all, we fervently prayed, cooked for him, cleaned his house and surrounded him with love and let him know that we cared and we were invested in his well being, long-term care and improved standard of living.

Through our faith, we saw God’s miraculous power. Not only did his disposition improve, but the doctors were astonished at his prognosis and were then able to put him on a potent cocktail that attacked the virus that was trying to take his life.

Following this chapter, I decided to educate myself and advocate for those infected with this dreadful disease. It was at this time, that I became a strong believer in education, prevention and treatment. I also decided to do my part and make a concerted effort to inform my friends and associates about this disease and prevent others from going through what my family went through, and is going through.

That summer I was afforded the opportunity to further this goal by joining an organization called the Campaign to End AIDS–Youth Action Institute. This caucus was comprised of youth from around the world, who are both socially and politically aware and passionate about finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. In June 2009, I traveled to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, for a youth action institute to receive intensive training in lobbying, grassroots organizing, utilizing the mass media and the like.

Following the program, each participant in the summer institute was required to volunteer with an ASO (AIDS Service Organization) and to return to their respective communities and develop a program to combat HIV/AIDS. I volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles. In this capacity, I worked directly with clients and helped to provide them with a multitude of essential public services to assist them in areas of housing, mental health, dental, legal, counseling and clinical care.

The clients I saw on a day-to-day basis were predominantly White and Hispanic. This point is important, because it highlights the disparities in care in our communities. The service and resources are available. However, Blacks were not utilizing them and this partly explains the disproportionate infection rates, and inclement deaths as a result of AIDS. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Black Americans at that time made up 55 percent of those newly infected, despite being just above 13 percent of the population.

Additionally, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25 to 34. Minority youth between the ages of 13 and 24 were also fast beginning to feel the brunt of this national pandemic. Silence, ignorance and complacency are not the answer or an excuse. Services, testing and treatment are available, and we as a community must take the initiative to value our lives and futures and access these options just as other cultural populations do.

In order to assure that the Black community is not further left behind, we must utilize the resources that we already have. That is why my project seeks to utilize the historical, spiritual and social cornerstones of our community–the Black church. My project aims to help facilitate a discussion about this disease, its effects and impact on our community and hopefully result in reduction of infection rates and an increased consciousness and understanding of the pandemic in Black America.

My project is simple. Once or twice a month our churches need to pray for a cure and include in Sunday bulletins and other church publications statistics about infection rates and information about the many resources that HIV-negative and positive members of the church can use to either prevent initial infection and or prevent the onset of AIDS and the potential for premature death or opportunistic infection.

I am aware that this is not going to be easy, because it instigates conversations about topics and themes that have been historically taboo in the church–issues revolving around sex, sexual behavior, sexuality, social stigma, drug use and the like. This is not the solution to the problem in our community, but a way to begin to remedy the catastrophic affect of HIV/AIDS and initiate a continued discussion and mobilization against this preventable disease.

Do not wait until someone you know or love is infected. Be a part of the solution. Bring an end to this pandemic in our community and begin the mobilization of Black strength.

About the campaign to end AIDS

The Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) is a diverse, exciting coalition of people demanding that our leaders exert the political will to stop the epidemic, in the U.S. and abroad, once and for all. The Youth Action Institute (YAI) is a youth subset whose purpose is to educate and eradicate the pandemic among the youth population. For more information about the C2EA, please call (877) END-AIDS (363-2437).

About AIDS Project Los Angeles

AIDS Project Los Angeles programs and services are designed to promote self-sufficiency for people living with HIV/AIDS, to support positive medical outcomes, and to keep people living with HIV/AIDS in care and treatment programs. APLA provides services in multiple locations, including the David Geffen Center in Koreatown (our main site), at the S. Mark Taper Foundation in South Los Angeles, at AV Hope Services in the Antelope Valley and throughout West Hollywood. For all services, eligibility requirements apply. For more information, including hours and directions, please call (213) 201-1600 or visit our website at APLA.org.

California HIV/AIDS Statistics
* Based on the new system of name reporting, there have been a total of 41,711 reported cases of HIV.*
* In Los Angeles, there have been a total of 17,212 cases of HIV and 57,411 cases of AIDS, as of June 2011.*
* African Americans make up approximately 7 percent of California’s total population, yet represent 18.4 percent of HIV cases and 18.3 percent of cumulative AIDS cases in the state.**
*Source California Office of AIDS June 2011 Monthly HIV/AIDS Statistics Report. **Source California Department of Public Health.