A regional symposium for faith leaders was held July 28 to address the HIV/AIDS health crisis in all African-American communities.
The event, held at DuSable Museum of African American History, was hosted by the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church Technical Assistance Network ( MICTAN ) , in collaboration with Chicago-area faith leaders and community organizations.
The overriding theme for the day was "we've come too far to turn back now." With this in mind the day was designed to equip clergy and faith leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis among LGBT African-Americans and the wider African-American community.
About 50 people attended the all-day event, which began with an invocation by the Rev. Doris Green of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Then, following reflections by the Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II ( senior servant Metropolitan Interdenominational Church of Nashville, Tenn. ) and acknowledgments by the Rev. Terry Terrell ( M. Div. Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, COO, First Response Center and Program Director, MICTAN Nashville, Tenn. ) , various community representatives were introduced. They came from the biomedical, community-based, political, religious and social-service realms.
Yaa Simpson, community epidemiologist at the Chicago Department of Public Health, updated attendees on the current state of HIV/AIDS in the Chicago area.
Dr. Mindy Thompson-Fullilove, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, gave the keynote speech on social determinants of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans.
Thompson-Fullilove started off by emphasizing the importance of integrated communities in caring for the vulnerable, controlling behavior and ensuring the well-being of the group. She said that if communities are de-stabilized then the social structure breaks down which in many cases will lead to an increase of HIV/AIDS cases.
In the case of African-American communities, there have been many factors that have undermined neighborhoods such as racial segregation, urban renewal, highway construction, deindustrialization, destruction of housing projects, gentrification among other issues, Thompson-Fullilove said. To fix these problems in individual neighborhoods the entire city has to be transformed, which in turn will reduce the rate of disease, she added.
A panel discussion moderated by Ulysses W. Burley, III, MPH St. Stephens Lutheran ELCA of Chicago, Ill., kicked off the afternoon session. Four local people made up the panel: Rev. Stanley Stephens, president Westside Pastor's Coalition for AIDS and Inner City Health; openly gay Rev. Anthony W. Sullivan, Jr., asst. pastor Pillar of Love Fellowship United Church of Christ; and activists Keith Green and Melanie Paul.
Paul, who was diagnosed 14 years ago, said she got involved in HIV/AIDS activism when she saw that there were few people of color represented in the movement. "I was an active drug user and because of my lifestyle I stayed away from the church since I thought they would judge me, which they did at the time and I got very angry at the church," said Paul. She said she fought her way back to the church, forcing them to recognize HIV/AIDS, and she hasn't stopped reaching out to the wider faith community.
Green, diagnosed as a senior in high school during a blood drive he helped organize at Hyde Park Career Academy, said he saw his life flash before his eyes. He lived in denial for a number of years until he began to experience the symptoms of HIV. Through the grace of god, Green said, he is here as an example of living successfully with HIV.
Sullivan was the next to speak and right off the bat he used all the negative gay slurs that people had attributed to him over the years and then said "I am an African-American, same-gender-loving, HIV-positive pastor. It's taken me many years to be comfortable saying this out loud to people." After telling the crowd that same-gender-loving people are all around them, Sullivan remarked that he felt like a refugee and felt ostracism from the church due to his sexual orientation for many years, until he found the inclusive United Church of Christ.
The final speaker on the panel was Rev. Stephens, who said he started the Westside Pastor's Coalition for AIDS and Inner City Health to educate members of the clergy, young people and the wider community of the West Side.
To close out the day the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., president and founder Healing of the Nations Foundation, senior minister emeritus, The Riverside Church, New York City gave a rousing speech on the importance of love and how HIV/AIDS destroys love. Forbes quoted from the bible about how god is love and those who love god must also love their brothers and sisters.
"I propose that since HIV/AIDS fights against love it is our duty to combat this anti-love virus and the church needs to reach out to people with HIV/AIDS," said Forbes with a fiery passion as he crisscrossed the stage while also noting that preaching against LGBT people goes against love.
The conversation will continue into the fall season with a four-month series of leadership seminars. They will all be held at DuSable Museum of African American History from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The dates are Aug. 19, 2011 where the discussion will again focus on the social determinants of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans; Sept. 23, 2011 which will zero in on sexuality and sexual health; Oct. 21, 2011 where faith leaders will reconcile first century theology and 21st century ministry; and finally, Nov. 18, 2011 with the topic radically loving, radically inclusive and radically reconciling rounding out the discussion and call to action.
For more information call Rev. Clifford A. Smith from MICTAN at 615-277-1762 or e-mail him at email@example.com .