Pictured Participants march to gathering.
In the battle against HIV/AIDS and its disproportionate impact on the African-American community, the key is to first listen and then take action, those at a recent speak-out concluded.
Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ) held a Black History Month forum Feb. 24 entitled 'The Real Deal in Black and White,' which was preceded by a gathering that included ethnic African-American foods and an AIDS vigil. The discussion, which was held at nearby North Shore Baptist Church, had a large and diverse turnout of individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS, health workers and activists—all trying to get at the bottom of a killer problem in the Black community.
'We need to listen, speak and most importantly, we need to listen,' advised TPAN's Executive Director Rick Bejlovec. 'HIV is all of our problem.'
During the first section of the evening, a panel consisting of Rev. Juan Reed, South Side Help Center's Charles Nelson, TPAN's Jeff Barry, CDPH's Yaa Simpson and AIDS Foundation of Chicago's Rev. Doris Green answered questions fielded to them about the differences between HIV in the Black and white communities. In addition to the shocking Chicago statistics that state that Black men account for 52 percent and Black women 76 percent of HIV cases, the panelists discussed disparities in treatment and access to healthcare in the Black community.
The all-around silence about HIV in the Black community—from the pulpits to the media—was a large part of the discussion.
'Not enough churches are responding to this epidemic,' said Green, who is involved in the education of African-American churches. 'I see changes taking place in these churches, but still it is not enough.'
According to Nelson, the HIV/AIDS movement in the Black community is far behind. In the 1980s, it wasn't until the epidemic started impacting white, gay men that a movement began, he said. 'The media made it seem as though it's a white, gay disease,' he said. 'I think the African-American community was at least six years behind the movement, and that's why we are where we are today.'
During a Q&A session with the audience, many issues were discussed, such as the failure of courageous leadership in the Black community, silence as a result of stigma, poverty, homophobia, education and internalized racism. The silence needs to be broken in order for a movement to take place, those present concluded.
'It's difficult to speak if you don't think you are being heard,' said audience member Lloyd Kelly of the Let's Talk, Let's Test foundation, who added that leaders need to work towards breaking the silence in the Black community. 'We don't talk about it because we don't think people are listening.'
And with a voice comes a movement, said Nelson. 'Without a movement, we can't expect anyone to understand what's going on in our community,' he said.
'Nothing happens unless we talk about it, then put it into action,' said Chicago Department of Public Health's Lora Branch, who served as moderator for the event.
Attendees were given slips of gold paper to write down action items to help create change. TPAN will hold this discussion at least once a quarter.
See www.tpan.org for more info.