Today, I received a beautifully written email from Executive Director of National Minority AIDS Council , Paul Kawata, that sheds light on how fighting the fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it, is carrying on the dream and legacy of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in. Kawata shares his memory of meeting Mrs. King...
"Mrs. King gave a keynote addresses at the National Skills Building Conference (known today as the United States Conference on AIDS) and the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit. As only she could do, Mrs. King said, “the fight against HIV is a fight for the civil rights of people living with HIV”. She drew a direct link between movements at a time when few wanted to be part of our struggle. She would get significant push back for her stance, but she never wavered in her support of our community. Against the wishes of many in the civil rights community, she opened the door for our movement to be part of a larger struggle.
Today HIV is at a crossroads. Many people living with virus now live long lives. Medications have given back what the disease took away. Unfortunately, that isn’t true in all communities. The Centers for Disease Control noted that across racial and ethnic groups, 79.5% of white Americans living with HIV had some viral suppression while only 64.1% of African Americans living with HIV had some viral suppression. African Americans who were diagnosed with HIV are the least likely to be linked to HIV medical care. We’ve heard these statistics before, but we’ve almost become numb to the numbers."
We cannot risk becoming numb. People are still dying from this. I recently found out a young, beautiful and talented young lady I had the pleasure of working with when I first started speaking passed away a few weeks ago. I don't know what her direct causes were, but it is still a blow to the community. No one should be dying from this today. Treatments are available, but they may not be easily accessible for everyone. Employability, insurance, adherence to treatment, comorbidities are sometimes all piled up against an individual living with HIV. In the U.S. each state handles access to treatment with a loose blanket of solidarity and globally, numbers are even more dismal.
It's going to take evolving innovation, strategic aggression and united compassion to change this. The fight to advance civil rights was never isolated to a one-time event, but a chain of consistent and strategic helping hands that never gave up. The same must be done in the work ahead to continue pushing and fighting against stigma, bringing equal access to treatment, and strengthening policy that is harming the HIV community.
If you are looking for more ways to get involved, consider becoming a member of NMAC or attending this years conference in Washington D.C. If neither of those are something you think you can achieve today, do not feel that you can't have a part in this movement. Dr. King said it best when he shed light on power in vulnerability:
- Start a discussion group in your community. Invite someone from your local health department to come out and educate. Many doors can open from this.
- Involve your elected officials in changing the policy in your state for criminalization of people living with HIV/AIDS by signing petitions or writing letters of your own.
- Share statistics via social media among your friends. Post it as your insight, challenge your friends to do the same. For help on how, visit Greater Than AIDS or our nations' government site full of educational tools like webinars, testing locators, awareness day information, etc.
- If you have never met someone living with HIV/AIDS, the opportunity is but a click away for you to learn from some residents in Florida that decided to be the Faces of HIV.
- If you are living with HIV and are looking for support, that is still doing your part in the movement, because you are demonstrating that there is still a need. Find empowerment and support through these individuals or agencies below and you will be on your way to doing great things!
- The Stigma Project - geared to eliminate the negative connotations associated with HIV/AIDS so it is looked at in a neutral health issue.
- The Red Pump Project - creates platforms to engage conversations about HIV/AIDS in a bold and socially driven way.
- SeeUs: Women Take a Stand Against HIV - utilizes tools for HIV positive women and their physician to address specific health concerns as an HIV positive woman
- If you are living with HIV and are not covered by insurance, you STILL have time to review and compare health plan options and find out if you are eligible for financial assistance that can help pay monthly premiums and reduce out of pocket expenses. Feb. 15 is the cutoff for open enrollment. #getcovered
- There are much, much more, feel free to contact me and I can help you find an agency, organization, or individual that will be able to address your concerns, issues and passion to help in the fight against HIV.
Thank you for reading and have a powerful and productively blessed day!