According to activist Rev. Doris Green, who heads up Chicago-based Men and Women in Prison Ministries, the Day of Unity, which this year takes place July 15, represents a day to "acknowledge the impact" of HIV/AIDS within the Black community.
The occasion was first marked in 2011 by NAACP and other stakeholders as part of a larger initiative to incorporate HIV/AIDS as a larger social justice issue within the Black church. Green sits on an advisory committee for the initiative, as does Rev. Charles Straight of Faith United Methodist Church.
Green said that about seven local churches are slated to take part July 15. Once Day of Unity began seven years ago, a key task for Chicago-area stakeholders has been opening the lines of communication and engagement between activists, service providers and community members in different parts of town.
"I've seen how the churches are coming together," Green said. "We've bridged the gaps between the South and West Sides."
Black Americans are among those most disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, especially young Black men who have sex with men ( MSM ). In 2016, about 58% of African Americans who received an HIV diagnosis were gay or bisexual men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ). Green and other advocates think it's time for religious institutions to approach HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue, along the same lines as poverty or other community challenges, and the Day of Unity is an occasion for church leaders to address it from the pulpit.
Green added that stigmatization and discrimination were still key barriers flummoxing advocates, but that outright ignorance is still a problem. Just a few months ago, she recalled, someone had asked her whether HIV could be transmitted via mosquito bites.
According to NAACP, goals for the initiative include trainings for faith leaders in the 30 U.S. cities with the greatest HIV burden; obtaining resolutions from mainline denominations pledging to incorporate HIV messaging into church activities; and integrating HIV-related materials into curriculum materials in predominately Black seminaries.
Green said that she would be at the NAACP's annual convention in San Antonio, Texas, on the Day of Unity, where she and others will be staffing a booth about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
"We will be there to educate the people on this," she said.