“We Gonna Be Alright”: An HIV Activist at the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening

By Waheedah Shabazz-El, PWN-USA Director of Regional Organizing

 

Introduction

Waheedah Shabazz-El.
Waheedah Shabazz-El.

“Unapologetically Black” was a major theme amongst more than 1,500 Black activists and organizers in attendance at the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening, held July 24-26, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University. I arrived of course as a Stakeholder and an HIV Activist representing PWN-USA, Philadelphia FIGHT, and HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA) — intent on helping to shape the landscape of the new Black Movement through identifying critical intersectional opportunities for movement building. Highlighting the implications of HIV Criminalization Laws and how they tear at the very fiber of the Black Community.

Something else happened for me as I disembarked the transit bus and approached Cleveland State University, something rather enchanting. I was eagerly greeted by young adults whom I had never seen or known, with unforeseen energy of reverence, respect, and appreciation. Warm smiles, head nods, door holding, bag reaching; along with verbal salutations of “good morning beautiful,” “good morning Black woman,” “good morning sister,” and “Black Love.” All this just for showing up, just for being there, just for being Black.

I soon realized there was another transformation going on here, because in my mind I was arriving as this “kick ass activist.” However, I was being seen and greeted through a prism of unanticipated reverence. I was being greeted as an elder — a tribal elder. Yes I showed up. Yes I was there. Of course I was Black – but beyond that, I was being bestowed the honorable identification as a Black Tribal Elder. A Black Tribal Elder who (now in my mind) had been summoned here to help shape the foundation for real Black Liberation.

Each person that greeted me was cheerful, kind, and jovial, yet maintained an unspoken seriousness which I came to understand to be a greeting from a deeper place inside each of us. It was utterly amazing. Our spirits were meeting, touching, embracing, and speaking in unison, saying to each other: “We are here to be free.

 

Day One, July 24

Waheedah with PWN-USA-Ohio Co-Chair Naimah Oneal.
Waheedah with PWN-USA-Ohio Co-Chair Naimah Oneal.

Day One of the conference and I was already hyped. Feeling grand and safe and appreciated, it was time to get down to work. Registration was seamless (since folks at the front of line called my name); then we were off to the opening ceremony. Greetings, salutations and introductions of the founders of the movement, local leaders and honoring of family members of young lives taken much too soon. The highlight of the opening ceremony for me was when Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza took us on a poetic history journey honoring the city of Cleveland for their leadership in the history of the Black struggle: From Ohio’s long and rich history as a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity to the 1964 Cleveland schools’ boycott to protest segregation to the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening.

The panel connecting HIV to the Movement for Black Lives was next and entitled “The Black Side of the Red Ribbon.” Panelists Kenyon Farrow, Deon Haywood, “young” Maxx Boykin from HIV PJA, and myself were given the opportunity to bring Black AIDS Activism into perspective and shared our motivation and years of experience working alongside (the Black side) of other community members in the fight to address the HIV dilemma and the stigma surrounding it.

Later that evening, July 24, we were addressed as a mass assembly by several of the recent families who have lost loved ones to police brutality and state violence. Family members of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson — both local victims of police murder. There was also cousin of the late Emmett Till.

 

Day Two, July 25

Day Two was more of the same “Black Love,” “good morning Black Man” and an opening plenary, yet something a bit different occurred. The Movement for Black Lives made its first essential internal transformation without any resistance. The challenge was eloquently articulated by a delegation of transgender and gender-variant participants who were invited to the stage: “The Movement for Black Lives must be a safe place for all, and inclusive of all gender identities and sexual expressions.”

The delegation introduced a list of logistic challenges that were overlooked, which included: an application with more than two gender choices; trans*-related workshops spread out on the schedule and not all in the same time slot; conference badges that allowed preferred name and pronoun preferences; and use of gender-neutral restrooms. In addition, the delegation offered some “not-so-gender-specific” language. Instead of referring to one another as brother and/or sister, we could use the word “Sib” (short for sibling) a more inclusive term. On the website, the Movement for Black Lives Mass Convening was framed as a space and time that would be used to “build a sense of fellowship that transcends geographical boundaries, and begin to heal from the many traumas we face.” So the transformation is to build a sense of siblingship, instead of fellowship.

Waheedah and panelists at "HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It?"
Waheedah and panelists at “HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It?”

“HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It” was the title of the panel I participated in later in the afternoon on Day Two, and it was a blast – aka a huge success. An expert panel with Marsha Jones, Kenyon Farrow, Bryan Jones, and I fiercely articulated how HIV Criminalization laws disproportionately affect and break down the very fiber of Black Community: their implications on Black Women, their children and Young Black Gay Men, and the impact the laws were having on public health within our Black Community.

 

Day Three, July 26

In the closing strategy sessions, HIV criminalization was kept on the agenda of the Movement for Black Lives. Ending HIV is a must and it will take a movement, not a moment, to take on the issue of ending yet another way of policing Black communities – this time through legal discrimination of people living with HIV.

All in all, the Movement for Black Lives was a gathering where we connected to Black love, Black leadership and Black power, Black culture, Black art, and the Black aesthetic in music. The convening included an amazing workshop on “Building Black Women’s Leadership.” The Movement for Black Lives’ journey continues as we commit our energy toward deepening and broadening the connections that were made at the convening. Again: It’s a Movement not a moment.

Black women, Black men, Black youth, Black elders, Black artists, Black straight people, Black queer people, Black trans* people, Black labor, Black Muslims, Black Christians, and Black Panthers. We laughed together. We cried together, and cheered for one another. We challenged each other and shared life experiences. We shared resources, studied together, and created new networks. We debated. We danced. We chanted. We partied together. We healed. I left there pumped with pride, chanting continuously in my head:

I

I believe

I believe that

I believe that we

I believe that we will

I believe that we will win! And #wegonnabealright.

 

Waheedah Shabazz-El is a founding member of PWN-USA and serves as PWN-USA’s Regional Organizing Director. She is based in Philadelphia.

“Why Would You Want to Get an HIV Test…?”

By Barb Cardell, PWN-USA Board Chair

The world of HIV looks very different today than it did when I first tested positive back in 1993. Trust me: That is a very, very good thing.

Barb Cardell.
Barb Cardell.

In 1993 there were “high-risk populations” that should get tested, and then there were the rest of us. I did the self-assessment (found in the Sunday paper) and determined that I was low risk. So low risk in fact that my doctor wouldn’t test me, even when I asked for a test.

In the early 1990s, women weren’t tested for HIV, they weren’t diagnosed with HIV; they just died of AIDS. It was only by fate that I found out I was HIV+ before I was really sick.

I had several gay friends and I knew they had been “popular” and hadn’t protected themselves as well as they could have. I went in for moral support when they finally decided to test. I discovered that they were all considered high risk so their test was free. Me? Super low risk, had to pay. But, fortunately I did and the rest, as they say, is HERSTORY.

It is with this personal experience in mind that I write about the full implementation of the US Prevention Services Task Force recommendation for HIV screening in April 2013. “The USPSTF recommends that clinicians screen for HIV infection in adolescents and adults aged 15-65 years.” This recommendation was given an A grade. Medical providers are encourage to make an HIV test a standardized part of care, and insurance companies are required to reimburse if the test is performed as part of a routine checkup.

This is the recommendation from the Feds, but what we see on the ground and in the clinics is different. According to a study released during IDWeek in 2012, 91% of patients who met the criteria for testing were not asked about HIV screening. A reluctance on the part of doctors and other medical providers to talk to their patients about HIV testing: too busy; thought the test wasn’t medically relevant; or believed their patient was not at risk. This is unacceptable, especially when we hope to stop the spread of new HIV cases.

So, in honor of National HIV Testing Day, what we need to do is:

  • remove judgement by providers and REQUIRE they test ALL of their patients;
  • partner with the American Medical Association and state Health Departments to provide training for all Primary Care providers so they can provide safe, competent, and accepting medical information and support before and after an HIV test;
  • ensure Linkage to Care programs are accessible and compassionate; and finally,
  • acknowledge that while HIV stigma and discrimination is alive and well, we can all be a part of the solution.

Barb Cardell lives in Colorado and is the Board Chair of PWN-USA and a Co-Chair of PWN-USA’s Colorado Chapter.

Updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Vote for the Recommendations Most Vital to Women with HIV!

Can you believe it’s been almost FIVE YEARS since the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) was released in July 2010?

The NHAS is a plan created under President Obama to comprehensively address the domestic HIV epidemic. The first NHAS included four main goals: 1) reducing the number of new HIV infections 2) increasing access to care for people living with HIV 3) addressing population-level disparities in prevention, care and treatment and 4) improving coordination of HIV programs and funding across federal agencies.

The first NHAS addressed some issues which are really important to women with HIV, including repealing HIV criminalization laws and expanding employment opportunities for people with HIV. But it missed the boat on others – failing to mention sexual and reproductive healthcare for people with HIV, failing to talk about the high rates of trauma and violence that impact women with HIV, and not meaningfully addressing the specific needs of transgender women.

Now, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is soliciting input for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which will be released this summer. This new Strategy (NHAS 2.0) will help to guide priorities for the domestic epidemic, likely for the next five years – which means it will go into the next Administration. It’s critically important that the voices of women with HIV and those who care about us are heard in this process.

The deadline to provide input ends this Friday, May 22nd. Here’s how to provide input:
1. Go to: https://nhas.uservoice.com
You can enter your email address to create a profile.
2. You will see that the opportunity to provide input is grouped into “feedback forums” according to the four goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. You can click on any of the feedback forums to see which ideas have already been proposed.
3. Once you have access to a profile, you have two options:
a. Vote for a recommendation that has already been proposed
b. Propose a new recommendation
You can do both of these.
Note that you get 25 votes per feedback forum. You can vote for multiple recommendations, and you can also cast more than one vote per recommendation.

There are a lot of good recommendations already proposed in the forum. Also, a few weeks ago, PWN-USA released our own top five recommendations for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy. In line with PWN-USA’s policy agenda and NHAS recommendations, here are just a few of the recommendations which have been proposed on ONAP’s forum that we think are really important. Click the links below to read more about each one. Starred (***) items are drawn from PWN-USA’s five top recommendations!

1. Reducing new HIV infections
a. Lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange
2. Increasing access to care & improving health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLHIV)
a***. Develop a minimum standard of care for PLHIV which includes sexual and reproductive healthcare, trauma-informed care, supportive services, and more.
b. Ensure gender-responsive, trauma-informed, coordinated and comprehensive care (this is very similar to the one above).

c***. Announce a national initiative focused on addressing inequity in access to care and poor health outcomes among Black women living with HIV

d***. Launch a national initiative to enhance culturally relevant prevention and care for transgender women
e. Ensure that PLHIV have access to healthy food: “Food as Medicine”
f. Increase and prioritize funding for services that link PLHIV into care
g. Preserve and support women-focused community-based HIV organizations
h. Integrate the work of the Federal Interagency Working Group on HIV and Violence against Women into the NHAS by instituting metrics on addressing trauma and violence

3. Addressing disparities and health inequities
a***. Fund research and development of women-controlled HIV prevention tools
b. Mandate comprehensive sex education in schools, and eliminate support for abstinence-only education
c. Eliminate state-level HIV criminalization laws

Are you excited yet? Ready, set, go vote before this Friday, May 22! (https://nhas.uservoice.com)

We Stand with Michael Johnson: HIV Is Not a Crime

HIV and Justice Organizations Stand with Michael Johnson and All Black Gay Men, and Condemn Laws Criminalizing HIV-Positive Status

As organizations committed to human rights, social justice, and dignity for people living with and vulnerable to HIV, we release this statement in solidarity with Black gay men who have been organizing a response to the criminalization of Michael L. Johnson.

michael_johnsonAfter only two hours of deliberation by a jury in a trial that was fraught with misinformation about HIV transmission, misunderstanding about gay hookup culture, and inadequate legal counsel, a nearly all-white jury quickly convicted Michael Johnson, a 23-year-old Black gay man in St. Charles, MO, finding him guilty on five felony counts and sentencing him to 30 years in prison.

HIV criminalization is yet another tool used to police and incarcerate bodies that are too often poor, Black or brown, or queer-identified. In this case, Michael will be incarcerated for the next 30 years for allegedly exposing sexual partners to HIV, a condition that is chronic and manageable with proper care and treatment. This is atrocious. As a point of comparison, killing someone while driving under the influence of alcohol carries a sentence of 7 years in Missouri.

St. Charles is less than a half-hour’s drive from Ferguson, MO, a city that has made international headlines due to racist police brutality and a scathing record of racial bias in law enforcement.

HIV criminalization laws are widely understood to be based on hysteria, misinformation, and outdated science as it relates to HIV transmission.  Expert-led professional associations including the HIV Medicine Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, and the American Medical Association have taken positions supporting the repeal or modernization of these laws, and President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS passed a resolution in 2013 calling for HIV criminalization laws to be reviewed and repealed.

This particular prosecution and the media hysteria around it were fueled by homophobia, HIV stigma, and anti-Black racism embedded in portrayals of Black male hypersexuality.  Michael Johnson is not the first Black gay man to be incarcerated under these laws, and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Black lives and Black leadership matter.  We stand in support of the agenda released today by Black gay men:

  1. Support Michael Johnson while he’s in prison, continue to raise awareness about his case, work to support any potential appeals or strategies to reduce his sentence or overturn this ruling altogether.
  1. Continue to dialog with Black gay men around the country in person and through social media about the importance of opposing such laws.
  1. Repeal the laws that criminalize HIV exposure, nondisclosure, and transmission, in Missouri and nationwide.
  1. Challenge our allies in Black progressive organizations, criminal justice reform, HIV prevention and treatment, and the LGBT movement to take more of an active role in challenging HIV criminalization.
  1. Develop more capacity for Black gay men’s grassroots organizing.

When people with HIV are prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws, no justice is achieved. Stigma, fear, and, in many cases, racism, win. And independently of HIV, criminalization, incarceration, and police brutality disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, LGBT folks, and people living in poverty.

Black gay men cannot and must not be removed. With the recognition that anti-Black racism, homophobia, and HIV stigma are at the heart of the epidemic and the verdict in the Michael L. Johnson case, we as an HIV community must commit to centering Black leadership and to ensuring that the police state does not factor into addressing the HIV epidemic. Incarceration and prisons are never the solution.

We echo and amplify the love from the open letter to Michael L. Johnson to all Black gay men; we will continue to stand with all of you in this fight for Michael’s freedom.

To Michael: we love and will continue to support you.

To Black gay men across the nation: we commit to fight by your side in service of justice, love, and liberation.

In solidarity,

 

ACT UP Boston

Advocacy Without Borders

The Afiya Center

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama South

AIDS Arms, Inc

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project of the East Bay

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)

APLA Health & Wellness

AIDS Resource Center Ohio

AIDS United

AILES

Alabama HIV/AIDS Policy Partnership

American Run to End AIDS (AREA)

Amida Care

Arkansas RAPPS

Believe Out Loud

Berkeley Builds Capacity

#BlackLivesMatter

BlaQueerFlow: The Griot’s Pen

The Body Is Not an Apology

BOOM!Health

C2EA (Campaign to End AIDS)

Cascade AIDS Project

CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies

The Center for Sexual Justice

The CHANGE (Coalition of HIV/AIDS NonProfits & Governmental Entities) Coalition

Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus

Desiree Alliance

End AIDS Now

End Discrimination & Criminalization Org

Fresh Anointing Ministries/Living Positive HIV/AIDS Ministry

Friends For Life

Full Of Grace Ministries

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-North America (GNP+ NA)

Harm Reduction Coalition

Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation

Health Initiatives For Youth (HIFY)

Hepatitis, AIDS, Research Trust

HIPS

HIVE/UCSF

HIV Disclosure Project

HIV Justice Network

HIV Medicine Association

HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

House of Blahnik, Inc.

Housing Works

Houston HIV Cross-Network Community Advisory Board

Howard Brown Health Center

Intimacy & Colour

Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network

Justice Resource Institute

Legacy Community Health

LinQ for Life, Inc.

LIVES WORTH SAVING INC

Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network

Men’s Health Foundation

Metropolitan Community Church

Missouri HIV Criminalization Task Force

MrFriendly

MyFabulousDisease.com

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National LGBTQ Task Force

NIA Women in Public Health

NO/AIDS Task Force (d.b.a. CrescentCare)

Northern Nevada HOPES

Ohio AIDS Coalition

One Struggle KC

Positive Iowans Taking Charge

Positive Women Inc. New Zealand

Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA)

PWN-USA Bay Area

PWN-USA Louisiana

PWN-USA-Ohio

PWN-USA Philadelphia Chapter

PWN-USA San Diego Region

POZ VETS USA INTL

Project Inform

Queerocracy

Sandshouse

SERO Project

SisterLove, Inc.

SOCIAL ACTION AND REHABILITATION CENTRE-SARC TRUST

Sophia Forum

Southern AIDS Coalition

Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative

Steps to Living on Facebook

Stopping  da Stigma

Sweet Georgia Press, LLC

Tougaloo Pride

Transdiaspora Network

Transgender Law Center

United Church of Christ HIV AIDS Network, Inc. (UCAN)

US People Living with HIV Caucus

Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement

Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Victim of HIV Criminalization

Visual AIDS

The Well Project

W King Health Care Group

The Women’s Collective

Women Together For Change

Women with a Vision

(List updated May 19, 2015)

Click this link to sign your organization onto this statement

Resources:

Commentary: Stop Locking Up Black Men for HIV, by Keith Boykin

On Uplifting Voices, Social Justice and Listening to HIV Criminalization Accusers, by Mathew Rodriguez

‘Tiger Mandingo’ is guilty because Missouri law ignores three decades of science, Jorge Rivas

Guiding Principles for Eliminating Disease-Specific Criminal Laws, Positive Justice Project

HIV Criminalization: What You Need to Know, Sero Project

 

Bee Day 2015: Advocating for Reproductive Health in South Carolina

By Stacy Jennings, PWN-USA Member

On March 25, 2015, many lobbyists – including me – from the grassroots e-advocacy network “Tell Them,” which works to improve reproductive health policy in South Carolina, gathered for an opportunity to meet with House Representatives seeking their support for a much needed bill.

Watch my video about why participating in Bee Day was so important to me:

Support is very much needed for reproductive health policies to include Bill (H.3447). This bill would ensure that young persons be taught medically accurate and evidence-based information pertaining to sexual and reproductive health. The bill will ensure that all school districts in South Carolina comply with the existing Comprehensive Health Education Act.

Tell Them advocates have been responsible for speaking out for two other bills to pass, which include:

(S.278 + H.3204) Cervical cancer prevention:

This bill authorizes South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to provide 7th graders in South Carolina schools with a series of vaccines and information regarding vaccinations, including the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer;

(S.3) Domestic violence reform:

This bill is responsible for strengthening criminal domestic violence laws to increase penalties for perpetrators, and making state law compliant with federal law in denying legal ownership of firearms for those found guilty of domestic violence.

 

Want to know more about Bee Day?

 

Stacy Jennings lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and is a member and co-Representative to the Strategic Communications Action Team for PWN-USA-South Carolina.

PWN-USA Applauds Release of Daily HIV Prevention Pill Guidelines as Move Toward Sexual and Reproductive Rights

May 15, 2014 — Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a major step towards advancing sexual and reproductive health, rights, and choice, by releasing guidelines for the use of a daily HIV prevention pill: Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those who may be at risk for acquiring HIV.

Prevention justice for women means access to a range of HIV prevention options and tools which put the choice to reduce risk directly in the hands of women and which expand sexual pleasure, sexual health, and reproductive and family planning choices for people living with and vulnerable to acquiring HIV. PrEP provides an opportunity to reduce the impact of social inequities and inequitable power dynamics within relationships.

These new CDC guidelines are important for women: Not only are these the first such national guidelines issued anywhere for PrEP use, but according to a study by Gilead, the maker of the medication, nearly half of PrEP prescriptions in the U.S. to date have been issued to women.

Anna Forbes, who staffs the U.S. Women and PrEP Working Group (a national advocacy coalition of women’s health advocates, health care providers and researchers) commented: “Those women’s PrEP prescriptions are being written mostly by nurse practitioners and infectious disease specialists. Women can’t always insist that their male partners use condoms. Education about PrEP and this CDC guidance will enable health care providers to offer PrEP to women looking for another HIV prevention option — one that they can control. That’s a step forward for women.”

An article published earlier this year in the journal Women’s Health Issues, and written by Forbes and several PWN-USA leaders, discusses the importance of considering the lived experiences of women with HIV to maximize the effectiveness of emerging HIV prevention technologies.

The new CDC guidelines state that the use of Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is recommended for consideration for HIV-negative individuals who are:

  • in an ongoing sexual relationship with a partner living with HIV
  • gay or bisexual men who have had condomless sex or been diagnosed with an STI in the past six months, and who are not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV negative
  • heterosexual men or women who do not always use condoms when having sex with partners known to be at risk for HIV (e.g., injection drug users or bisexual male partners of unknown HIV status) and who are not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV negative
  • have within the past six months injected drugs and shared equipment or been in a treatment program for injection drug use

The AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 20, at 10am ET, where representatives of the CDC will discuss these new guidelines. Register here for the webinar

Read more about PWN-USA’s perspective on prevention justice and the role of biomedical prevention in our 2012 publication: Bringing Gender Justice to HIV Prevention: A Blueprint for Women’s Action

Behind the Miracle Cure a Broken System Lurks

Behind the Miracle Cure a Broken System Lurks

A baby girl from Mississippi was recently cured of HIV.  But why did the system fail this child and her mother in the first place?  Jim Merrell from the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance begins a timely conversation about the fragmented healthcare system that put the woman and her child at unnecessary risk for poor health outcomes.

National HIV Testing Day: Gods & Greeks in Black America: Engaging Non-traditional Partners in HIV Testing and Awareness

By Reverend Damon A. Powell, Ph.D.

Recruitment and partnership with Black-American churches and sororities can serve as an aide in increasing HIV testing and awareness within Black-American communities.

Although Black-American churches and sororities would appear to be strikingly different institutions at first glance, they actually have a lot in common historically. Both institutions have their genesis in the need to help uplift and support Black-Americans within and without their respective organizations. Both hold the values of justice, communal support, and service to those in need as central to their mission and mandate.

For Black-American churches this mandate can be found within a variety of biblical mandates which stress the need to aid the sick, fight for the oppressed, and serve greater humanity.[1] These mandates can be found throughout the bible, and have become an integral part of the Black-American church’s emphasis upon self-help and social justice.

Many Black-American sororities were founded in order to meet the needs for mutual aid and solidarity among Black-American women as they bonded together to resist the injustices and degradations they faced as women of color on college campuses. In addition, many of these organizations founding (and current) members were deeply involved within the life of the Black-American church, and have embedded biblical ideals concerning justice and service within the rituals and ethos of their organizations.[2]

In the United States Black-American women represent the fastest growing population of newly infected persons. In addition to this rapid increase, Black-American women are more than 21 times more likely to die from AIDS than non-Hispanic white women. HIV and AIDS has now become one of the primary killers of Black-American women between the ages of 25 and 34.[3]  If we are going to reach them we must begin to think outside of the boxes in our attempts to meet them where they are.

What better places to do so than within organizations in which Black-American women can be most readily found? A Black-American sorority is an organization controlled and run by Black-American women; but what many people fail to realize from the outside looking in- is that Black-American churches are predominantly composed of women as well. The reasons for their lack of prominent visibility, and numerical leadership proportionate to their numbers needs to be addressed- but they are present nevertheless.

If we want to be effective in our efforts at testing and awareness among Black-American women we must reach out to these organizations. It has been my experience that the leaders of both organizations are more than willing to become involved in some capacity if approached and made aware of the seriousness of the epidemic. At the same time, many of these leaders are not sure what to do, or how to begin. This means we must reach out personally to create an opportunity for developing a working relationship. When we do so, there should be brief but compelling statement of the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS and Black-American women, along with a few small but concrete suggestions for action which will empower them to become involved easily and quickly.

In my experience this is best achieved by not engaging in issues of ideology or doctrine…but to begin by focusing upon the effects of HIV as a growing public health crisis within the Black-American community-hence the need for testing and screening. Continue to develop a primary relationship with the leadership while enlisting the aid of a secondary point of contact within the organization that will have access to the leadership. In a church setting this will probably be someone whom the pastor designates or has traditionally dealt with health related issues within the congregation. Similarly, most sororities have designated Social Action committee heads who can serve as a secondary point of contact.

As you continue to reach out to the leadership with and through your secondary contact, the secondary point of contact can be further educated and invited to use their knowledge to create awareness in other members of the organization. This will set the stage for more effective and comprehensive involvement to begin. Be consistent and help them to develop  a plan for engagement that is timely, relevant and consistent but not overwhelming. The going can sometimes be slower than you might prefer, but the development of growing awareness and education within the community can serve as a solid framework well-worth the results.

1 There are far too many biblical references to be listed here. But I would recommend: Ex. 2.23-25; Dtr. 24.17; Psalm 41.1…from the Old Testament; and Mt. 25.34-41; Lk. 14.12-14 and others from the New Testament.

2 For more detailed information I suggest an examination of the origins and mission statements of a few Black-American sororities such as: http://www.deltasigmatheta.org or http://www.sgrho1922.org.

3 This statistic was obtained from the United Sates Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health. http://www.womenshealth.gov/minority/africanamerican/hiv.cfm accessed June 25, 2010.

Bio:

Reverend Damon Powell, Ph.D. a is theologian, visual artist, and HIV/AIDS activist. He has spent the last 5 years serving the needs of PLWHIV. Rev. Powell currently resides in Oakland, CA where he provides Case Management services through AIDS Project of the East Bay; promotes his painting and research, and leads the HIV/AIDS ministry of Brookins AME Church.