For the first time in the 22-year history of the AIDS epidemic, an unprecedented group of influential Black gay leaders has issued a call to action in the war on AIDS.
The group of 39 Black gay professionals urged widespread action to stem the spread of HIV in Black communities. The group also announced a nationwide campaign to lower the increasing rates of HIV transmission among Blacks in the United States.
In a first-of-its-kind summit convened by the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute, the group met in Miami at the end of April to hammer out a strategy for dealing with AIDS in their communities and industries.
At the end of their three-day brainstorming session, the group of doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, writers and scientists, began drafting a joint statement, released in May, that challenges African Americans to make HIV awareness a priority in their daily lives.
'Our community must recognize that this is a state of emergency,' the statement said. 'We must each speak openly about living with HIV—whether we are infected or not, we're all affected.'
The group called on Blacks to be engaged in the fight against AIDS, but also challenged local, state and federal governments to do more. 'What we don't know will kill us, so we must get tested to learn our own HIV status. If we are positive, we must get into treatment. Regardless of our status, we must protect ourselves and our partners from the virus' continued spread,' the statement said. The group also encouraged Blacks to 'demand our government take appropriate and targeted action to combat the epidemic in communities of color.'
Black gay activists and researchers have been meeting for decades to find ways to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but this new meeting marks the first time when Black gay AIDS activists and researchers joined forces with Black gay leaders who are not directly involved in AIDS policy.
The summit meeting was co-chaired by Emil Wilbekin, the editor of Vibe magazine, and E. Lynn Harris, the bestselling author of numerous books. The group also included filmmakers, songwriters, business leaders, media executives, government lawyers and other professionals not usually represented in HIV/AIDS conferences.
Wilbekin said that Blacks could no longer neglect the AIDS issue, which is devastating the community. He pointed to statistics from the Institute that HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death for Black men 25-44 in the U.S.
According to one recent study, one in three Black gay men in a six-city survey were HIV infected.
'We did not restrict ourselves to meeting with AIDS activists because HIV awareness is not just the responsibility of AIDS activists,' Wilbekin said. 'We need HIV awareness to filter down into all the places where our African American influence reaches, from corporate boardrooms to urban basketball courts to municipal and federal legislatures.'
'This is a historic first—the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that Black gay men have come together from all quarters of the community and from all corners of the country for the common goal of fighting AIDS,' said Black AIDS Institute Director Phill Wilson.
The group vowed to begin a grassroots effort to destigmatize AIDS, to lobby political leaders, and to speak out on HIV. 'This group is determined to hold HIV discussions, however awkward over dinner, at churches, at parties, with political appointees and elected officials and so on, until the tide is turned,' Wilson said. 'We are calling on other members of the African American community to do the same.'
The Black AIDS Institute is the nation's only black HIV/AIDS think tank. Its mission is to reduce the HIV/AIDS health disparities between people of African descent and other racial ethnic groups by mobilizing Black Institutions and individuals in efforts to combat AIDS in local communities.
STATEMENT: A BLACK GAY MEN'S CALL TO ACTION TO THE BLACK COMMUNITY
More than two decades have passed since the HIV/AIDS pandemic emerged. Despite advancements in other communities, the virus' progression among Black people continues to quicken.
As a group of professional Black gay men, we call on our community to join us in the fight to rid our community of this devastating disease. We come together from all walks of life to search for and implement solutions. We are elected officials and public servants. We are leaders in the world of music. We are businessmen, lawyers, artists, entertainment and media executives, and scientists. Despite our varied areas of expertise, our strength is our common vision. We are Black men who refuse to remain silent while Black people account for over half of all new HIV infections every year in the United States.
Our community must recognize that this is a state of emergency. We must each speak openly about living with HIV-whether or not we are infected, we are all affected. It is our collective responsibility to be informed and responsible.
— We must protect ourselves and our partners from the virus' continued spread.
— We must teach each other about HIV and AIDS and recognize that this is a preventable and treatable disease.
— We must get tested and encourage our partners, family and friends to do the same.
— If we are positive, we must get into treatment.
— And we must demand that we as a Black community call upon our own resources and our government to take appropriate and targeted action to combat the epidemic in our communities.
Perhaps most crucially, we must engage every part of the Black community in a coordinated effort to turn the tide. It is time for us to reject the paralyzing denial, stigma and homophobia promoted by a few lone voices. We must confront the socio-economic conditions that cause people to do drugs and exchange needles; challenge the lack of affordable medicine and treatment options available to many of us; dispel the myths and misinformation circulating in our communities; and alleviate the myriad issues that contribute to the spread of AIDS in Black communities today.
We are calling on every Black organization in America to add HIV/AIDS to its agenda. And we are asking every Black man, woman, and child to make a personal commitment to fight against HIV/AIDS in our communities.
Finally, it is time for Black gay men to stand up and be counted. In order to participate in the healing of our community we must first heal ourselves. So we are joining together as one voice, one body, and under one spirit of love. It is through this union that our healing can begin. And so we invite our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to join us in a partnership to end this pandemic. Only through coming together can we end the plague sweeping through all quarters of Black America. The power to save our lives ultimately lies in our own hands!
Emil Wilbekin, Editor in Chief,
Vibe Magazine*, New York, New York
E. Lynn Harris, Novelist, Atlanta Georgia
Keith Boykin, Esq. lecturer and writer, New York, New York
Prof. John L. Peterson Ph. D,
Georgia State University*, Atlanta, Georgia
Prof. Juan Battle Ph.D., Hunter College & the Graduate Center, C.U.N.Y.*, New York
George Bellinger, Jr., AIDS Action Council*, Washington D.C.
Stuart Burden, Levi Strauss & Co.*, San Francisco
Paul E. Butler, New York
Bartholomew T. Casimir, MA, Psychotherapist, San Francisco
Charles E. Clifton, Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago
Stamp Corbin, Entrepreneur, Columbus, Ohio
Duane Cramer, Photographer, San Francisco
Brickson Diamond, Private Investment Advisor, Los Angeles
Maurice O'Brian Franklin, M. Franklin Management, LLC, New York
Darrin Gayles, Esq., Lawyer, Miami
James Grooms, Esq., Grooms & Williams, PLLC, New York
James Earl Hardy, Author, Atlanta
Dennis Holmes MD, U.S.C. Medical Center, Los Angeles
Ernest Hopkins, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco
Patrik-Ian Polk, Filmmaker, Los Angeles
Imara Jones, New York
John King, Esq., Lawyer, Miami
Andre Lee, Film Movement*, New York
David Malebranche, MD, MPH, Emory University*, Atlanta