Like so many other Americans today, I have a feeling in my gut that we are entering a new era of hope in politics and life. Even the most cynical of us can feel the change in the air. As a lifelong advocate for responsible sexuality education and sexual health and rights, I feel that it is the duty of SIECUS, and all other advocacy groups, to seize upon this moment in American life and make the most of it.
There is no better time to start than this Saturday, Feb. 7th, which is the 9th annual Black AIDS Awareness Day. We have come to the harsh realization that HIV/AIDS has impacted the Black community in a way that should utterly shock us. While Blacks make up 13% of the population in the United States, nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in this segment of the population. This incredible racial disparity shows that we, the advocacy community, along with government on the state and federal levels, have failed.
In our efforts to right this injustice, however, we cannot fall back into our old habits. Interventions into the Black community can’t simply be based on taking a condom into a school or to a rally or speaking about HIV prevention, and then continuing on until the next Black AIDS Awareness Day. We need a more holistic approach that recognizes that HIV prevention and education should not be compartmentalized and removed from the contexts of people’s everyday lives.
Neither HIV nor people exist in a vacuum and we cannot behave as if they do. While faced with the challenge of remaining HIV negative, many of the Americans who are most at risk for infection, including Blacks, also face challenges with poverty, community, and lack of educational opportunity. Millions of people need assistance in these areas and we, as the broader progressive community, need to join together to help them, not as “housing advocates,” or “poverty advocates,” or “HIV advocates” but as life advocates.
While this may seem like a daunting task, I am firmly convinced that lifting people with hope and a sense of value and worth in their families and their communities is the only way we are ever going to truly beat HIV. Organizations like the Black AIDS Institute, the National Minority AIDS Council, and others have been working invaluably on this front for years, and we are committed to helping them carry on their fight in any way we can.
I hope that this Black AIDS Awareness Day can be the first in a new era of involvement and responsibility by us in the advocacy community. We can and must do better than we have so far.