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Gerber/Hart Honors Rustin
2004-02-01

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Gerber/Hart Library will commemorate African-American History Month with a program on Bayard Rustin Sunday, Feb. 8, at 4 p.

The New Year, 2004, we have made it to another year if you are reading this. We are still here and live to see another important milestone within our lives. Flashback with me for a moment and imagine it's the 10-second countdown as you are welcoming in the New Year. Your ears are flooded with the sounds of many different voices, cries of joy, as people flash back over the pain, pleasures, sorrow, and successes. You will hear the sounds of men and women kissing each other and their prospective partners. You'll hear countless corks popping and the sound of crystal glasses clinking, whistles, sirens, and shouting that turn into warrior cries as the clock strikes 12.

If you are watching television you will see the ball descend or the confetti falling from just above your head. Your mind flashes at warp speed inside and out of yourself. As the confetti falls, I start to remember all of the names as if they are written on each tiny piece of confetti falling around me. The names of powerful brotha's and sista's who have walked before us; some whose names have been so buried within my mind it brings tears to my eyes as I recall, reflect and remember. I flashback over the names of soldiers I have heard every week since the U.S. declared war on Iraq.

I think about the series of losses that I have personally experienced because of HIV infection and the War on AIDS. This war has helped me to grow and I have learned that there is no growth without some kind of loss. Although the end of major combat was called early mid- 2003, Iraqi citizens along with the U.S. and others who have been affected by the war will have to try and rebuild shattered lives. Even though the world has been given evidence that Saddam Hussein did not perish, we still await evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

The war that still haunts me is the war with HIV/AIDS. This is the bloodiest war for me, because it is constant and there is still no foreseeable end. As a young adult, I was drafted into a war that was declared on humanity more than 20 years ago. I was placed on the frontline over 14 years ago when HIV invaded my body. I saw the true tragedies of war as I lost one friend after another to HIV and attended tearless funerals that had brimstone overtones from the pulpit. I have lived to see another year with HIV inside of me. A daily war that rages within that has me fighting for ground mentally and physically.

By the close of 2003, reports from the Centers of Disease Control stated that over 100,000 new HIV cases were reported, and that African Americans continue to comprise the largest percentage of new cases at 55%. Also reported, an estimated 850,000 to 950,000 U.S. citizens are HIV-positive, and that this number is greater than ever before. The most haunting aspect of the report was that 40 percent of people who test positive for HIV will be diagnosed with AIDS within one year, which would be too late to fully benefit from the treatments that are currently available.

The nightmare of multi-drug resistant versions of the HIV virus has already come to our shores and has been reported across the country. There are still no current medical treatments for these virulent strains; it seems as though HIV is taking ground in this Great War. Some of our warriors on the frontlines are waiting for the next clinical trial in the hope of fighting just a little bit longer.

All of war, with its major loss of life, dignity, justice, and civil liberties, affects all of humankind. People of color are now at greatest risk globally for HIV/AIDS and we have already lost more than was lost in the Middle Passage or what some call the Black Holocaust. I pray that my nightmare about the end of races of people doesn't become a reality within my lifetime. There is still no country on the planet that has reported a case of HIV, that can say that they have stopped the spread, only slowed its advance on humankind.

There are an estimated 40,000 new infections of HIV a year and in these days, how many people don't know of at least one person who has been infected or affected by HIV/AIDS? What does the U.S. do as superpower when we don't have men or women to fight for our freedom, our lives, and those of our children? What do we do when we need to again liberate some oppressed people or continue the war on terrorism and can't because we've lost men and women with the War on AIDS, on our own soil and maybe by our own hands?

There are still some basic things that we all can do to slow and work to stop the spread of HIV until there is a cure or the war is declared over. The most basic is to converse about HIV/AIDS, ask questions, and gain knowledge so we can have an arsenal of information to fight this Great War, then cause a rippling effect of knowledge, love and understanding for our people and ourselves.

I believe that all of humankind needs to be united, not only against terrorism; some of us need to focus on the fact that we have already been engaged in a war for more than 20 years with HIV. We must learn from our past to protect and ensure that there will be a future for all of humankind.

As the clock strikes 12, think about the confetti and all of the names of those who have fought such a valiant fight, as well as those of us who are still in the trenches fighting every day. Say a prayer or make a moment of silence. I keep my head lifted because I'm still here and have made it to 2004. We can all be warriors because lives are worth fighting for, aren't they?


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