by Diedra J. Levi, CEO, Living Affected Corporation
As a Black person, I can tell you that an awareness day is rhetorical because we are aware. We simply haven’t had enough. We haven’t had enough of dying when we don’t have to. We haven’t had enough funerals. We haven’t had enough of seeing someone darken and waste away. We are aware. We are aware that Black gay men are more at risk. We are aware that Black gay men are more likely to be infected. We are aware that Black gay men are more likely to not get the proper treatment and die from this disease. We are aware that Black women are 20 times more likely to become infected with HIV than White women. We simply haven’t had enough.
I am aware that the right person hasn’t been infected and stood up to say that I have HIV. I am aware that the conspiracy theories are still rampant in my community and most think that Magic Johnson was able to afford a cure. I am aware that there is no cure. I am aware and can call names of people who eat a nutritious diet and ingest special herbal treatments to keep the effects of HIV at bay. I’m aware that that’s not enough. I’m aware that the treatment now can bring you back from the brink of death once you have had enough. But we haven’t had enough.
In Arkansas, we still have a death a month of some young gay male less than 30 years of age from a disease they didn’t have to die from so young. Are people aware that poverty and homelessness are more than likely a part of the journey for this young man? Are you aware that if you go up under the bridges of Little Rock that you would find that about 40% of these homeless people are gay? Are we aware that parents beg for a mental diagnosis from a psychiatrist instead of accepting that their child is simply gay? Are we aware that one of the most popular ministers here will dunk a child under the cold waters of baptism to try to wash away that homosexual demon (that the child might not be aware of) out of them? Yes, I believe we are aware but I don’t believe we have had enough.
I’m aware that if the Atlanta housewife, NeNe, said to take your medication if you have HIV, then we might get some results. I believe if, while on American Idol, Nicki Minaj says to take your medication for your HIV, we might get some results. I even believe that if, from the pulpit, preachers preached love, we might have some results. But they don’t which translates to we haven’t had enough.
When it comes to Black people, I know that when we have had enough, we move and shake mountains. Rosa Parks had had enough. Harriet Tubman had had enough. Colin Powell had had enough. When Rodney King was beaten, we had had enough. But for Black folks and dying from or baring half the burden of HIV/AIDS we haven’t had enough. There is no fight, no riot, and no march. There is the perpetuation of shame, guilt and isolation.
I would like to see Legislators fighting for a chance to speak at a National Black HIV Awareness Day. Each representative will want to tell about how they fought for housing, education, food, treatment and employment that the lack thereof was a trajectory to HIV/AIDS. Senators will tell their stories of how they fought for HIV decriminalization, syringe exchanges, HIV prevention, vaccine and cure funding. National Black HIV Awareness Day should not be a continuation of a festival of free t-shirts and wristbands which is usually attended by those that are well aware. We need to be passionate enough because we have had enough and go door to door spreading the word that the end of AIDS is near. When we find that the masses of those most impacted are aware and they have had enough; maybe National Black HIV Awareness Day will be a celebration of change.
Living Affected Corporation is a grantee of AIDS United’s Southern REACH initiative