African-American Leaders Issue National Call To End AIDS Epidemic In Black America

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases in America of what has become known as AIDS, Black Leaders from multiple sectors of the community — elected officials, civil rights, entertainment, media, and faith — issued a call to action and declaration of commitment to end the AIDS epidemic in Black America. This historic presentation of united leadership took place today in a press conference hosted by the New York-based Open Society Institute.

“In 2006, AIDS in America is a Black disease,” said Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute. “The only way for AIDS to be over in America is for AIDS to be over in Black America, and the only way to stop AIDS in Black America is for Black people to take ownership of the disease and mount a mass Black mobilization.”

Over a million Americans are living with HIV today — nearly half of them are Black. Yet, national policymakers have lost focus. Federal funding for domestic AIDS care programs has remained largely flat since 2001. Approximately 54% of the new HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. are Black. Among women, Blacks account for two thirds of all new infections. And recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies estimate nearly half of all Black gay and bisexual men in some of America’s urban centers are already infected.

“For Black America, the moment of truth has arrived,” said actor Danny Glover, a long-time AIDS activist and humanitarian. “If we are to survive the AIDS epidemic, we are going to have to gather all of our resources and marshal them for the political struggles that lay ahead.”

With that mandate in mind, the gathered leaders are calling on all sectors of Black America — from individuals to political, religious and cultural leaders — to commit to taking action against HIV/AIDS by engaging in a coordinated campaign to develop a national commitment and focus around the issue. “We’re calling on all major Black organizations to make fighting AIDS a top priority by setting concrete measurable goals and real deadlines,” added Glover.

Along with Glover, other key figures also lending support to the effort at today’s press conference included Bruce Gordon, President – NAACP; Rachel Guglielmo, Project Director – Public Health Watch, Open Society Institute; Congressman Charles Rangel (D-New York); Kelli Richardson Lawson, Executive Vice President – Corporate Marketing, BET Networks; Rev. Edwin Sanders, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church; Dr. Gregory Robeson Smith, Mother AME Zion Church; Donald Bowen, Senior Vice President – Programs, National Urban League; Congressional Delegate Donna M. Christenson (D-U.S. Virgin Islands); George Curry, Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA); Keith Boykin, Host – BET J Network Talk Show “My Two Cents”; Jerry Lopes, President – Program Operations & Affiliations, American Urban Radio Networks; and Pernessa Seele, AIDS Activist and Founder – Balm in Gilead.

As a part of this re-energized call to action, a new report, AIDS in Black Face: 25 Years of An Epidemic, released today by the Black AIDS Institute, provides a look at how what started out as a strange unnamed disease among five white gay male patients at University of California Los Angeles medical center in 1981 became a defining issue of our time. It looks at past success and failures, assessing the impact of the growing treatment access crisis on Black America and shines a light on the widening HIV/AIDS health disparities between Blacks and other racial ethnic groups. The report features testimonies from 25 prominent African Americans directly affected by the AIDS epidemic and concludes with recommendations on what should be done to end the epidemic, given the current state of affairs.

The report also calls for:

* Expanding Proven Prevention Work — This includes federal funding of needle exchange programs, appropriate discharge planning for prisoners and comprehensive AIDS prevention for young people inclusive of abstinence, delayed gratification, sexual responsibility, safer sex practices, proper condom usage, and other risk reduction strategies.

* Protecting Access to Treatment — Demand that Congress and the White House maintain and strengthen the network of programs designed to make healthcare affordable and support the AIDS safety net. Reauthorize adequate funding of the White Care Act, and end efforts to shift Medicaid costs onto poor families.

* Ending the Debilitating Stigma that Fuels the Spread of HIV — Acknowledgement of the sexual diversity in Black America.

The individual testimonies are drawn from five broad sectors of our community: politics, community organizing, the church, the arts and the news media. They include celebrities like Glover and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph; leading political figures like Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California); religious leaders such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; and familiar media voices like NNPA’s Curry and American Urban Radio Network talk show host Bev Smith.

“We have dithered too long. Each year the epidemic worsens in Black neighborhoods, and each year the national commitment to interrupting its spread and keeping those already infected healthy grows weaker,” said Rev. Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. “AIDS in Black America is a difficult and multifaceted problem — but it is also a winnable war. This report provides a strategy for us to stop the slaughter.”

“The AIDS story in America is mostly one of a failure to lead,” said Debra L. Lee, Chairman and CEO of BET Networks. “BET is proud to stand with the Black AIDS Institute and other leaders in calling on Black leaders and organizations to step forward. Whether as opinion shapers or industry titans, we all must use our positions to help build a mass grassroots community movement to end HIV/AIDS.”

The report also highlights trailblazers — brave and visionary Black activists who have rallied neighborhoods to action — and memorializes those who have lost their lives to AIDS. Their steps are both large and small, ranging from a pastor’s wife who launched a city-wide AIDS ministry through her church to a songwriter who lent his art to a dying friend.

As NAACP Chairman Julian Bond writes in his testimonial, explaining why he has led the historic civil rights group into AIDS work, “The evidence is all about us, and you’d have to be blind not to think this should be a major priority for many, many people.”

A copy of the report is available at http://www.BlackAIDS.org.

Via PRNewswire

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