Whoopi Goldberg advocated using blunt language and graphic commercials to shake things up in the fight against HIV/AIDS when she headlined Chicago House's third annual Speaker Series Luncheon Nov. 4.
"I think sometimes we're too polite," Goldberg said. "I'm still overwhelmed by the fact that people have no concept of what really is happening. There's so many innovations going on, and no one's talking about it. I have to hear about the Kardashians. I like a Kardashian, but there's bigger stuff going on."
The Academy Award-winning actress and The View moderator spoke to a packed house at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe. Tickets to the luncheon ranged from $150 to $500; all proceeds benefit the longstanding HIV/AIDS agency Chicago House.
Wearing jeans, sneakers and a grey sweater she borrowed from one of her grandchildren, Goldberg spoke informally, cracking jokes and drawing frequent laughter from the rapt audience.
"I know that when you've done this before you've had adult speakers like President Clinton [ and ] Madeline Albright," Goldberg said. "I'm not that."
She opened the event with a brief history of her personal involvement in HIV/AIDS activism, which began in San Francisco in the 1980s. Goldberg recalled the sudden onslaught of the diseasestrange lesions and sudden deathsand recounted how little people cared.
"Everybody kind of turned their back," she said. "We were having friends in hospitals [ who ] were being thrown out … . [ President ] Reagan gave us the finger."
Goldberg quickly emerged as an outspoken HIV/AIDS activist, performing at benefits and creating public service announcementsthough was initially surprised by the 'activist' title.
"We didn't know we were doing anything good," Goldberg said. "We were just looking out for our friends. Nobody was looking out for 'em. We had people in our houses who were dying in ways that were not dignified, in ways that were not American, and still, no one did anything."
Thirty years later, Goldberg said one of the biggest problems she's seeing is apathy among younger generations who aren't fully aware of the disease's grave history.
"They hear it like we heard it, but they don't get it because they're young," Goldberg said, "and when you're young, you're dumb."
Goldberg advocated creating honest, graphic commercials and relying on popular celebrity spokespeople like Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake to reach young people. She complained that parents, schools and organizations are often too fearful to speak honestly about sex.
"I have three grandkids, and I have been really blunt with them because there's no other way to be now," Goldberg said. "The direct approach is always best because if you have people telling you the truth, or people who you perceive as telling you the truth, you're going to listen."
"I'm not an expert," she continued. "I can't give you any statistics. But I can tell you what I've seen. I've seen that we're in deep trouble with young people. I see we're in deep trouble with Black folks and people of color because the word is not getting to the folks in a way that is being held onto."
Goldberg closed the event with a call to be vocal and outspoken. She reminded the audience that there are still congressmen who don't think AIDS is worth tackling and said there's still a lot of work to be done.
"We could've been 25 years ahead of where we are right now if they had just paid attention," Goldberg said.
Audience members were given small donation envelopes, and the Lee Charitable Foundation promised to match up to $15,000 of each donation made through January 1, 2012.
Notable guests at the Friday afternoon luncheon included: Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez; Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka; 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman; Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Deb Shore; Congressional Candidate Ladda Tammy Duckworth; and TPAN CEO Bill Farrand.
The event co-chairs were Judy Rice, Ron Huberman and Todd Hamilton. Chicago House CEO Stan Sloan also addressed the crowd. Emcee was ABC TV's Cheryl Burton.
To learn more about the Chicago House, visit: www.chicagohouse.org .
Photos for Windy City Times by Hal Baim