Program Note: In CNN’s Black in America, Soledad O’Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Editor's Note: This morning the Black AIDS Institute released a report entitled “Left Behind! Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic” The report praises U.S. efforts to address HIV worldwide, but criticizes what it terms a weaker response to the epidemic at home.
According to the report:
Pernessa Seele, who founded the group Balm in Gilead to disseminate accurate information about AIDS to black churches across the U.S, shares with us her view:
Founder/CEO, The Balm In Gilead™
I lift my hat off to CNN for its series on Black In America. Having grown up in the segregated South (Lincolnville, S.C.) and now at the age of 53 living in Richmond, Virginia, I can certainly speak of some of the changes and some of the “same ole thing” that black people encounter daily in these great United States. Health care is one of those areas that I must point to as the “same ole thing”, particularly the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS among African-Americans.
The response to AIDS in Black America has been awful. The average American (black and white) can only relate to the devastating AIDS epidemic in Africa, with no clue of the horrendous suffering Black Americans are enduring right here at home. America’s response to AIDS in Africa has been billions of dollars more than its response to its black citizens at home.
As Founder/CEO of The Balm In Gilead, a non- profit organization building the capacity of faith communities to address life threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, I am privileged to work in both Africa and African-American communities and witness not only the similarities of suffering but also the very unequal response and caring.
The world has been very consumed with the devastation of AIDS in Africa. Great! However, there should be a worldwide out-cry that 1 in 20 persons living in Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, is living with the AIDS virus. Over 80% of these persons living with HIV in Washington, DC, are Black Americans.
The HIV prevalence rate in Washington, DC, (5%) is fast approaching the levels of infection in Uganda (5.4%). I don’t have time to go through the list of state after state that reflect the disproportionate rate of AIDS among blacks, such as Georgia where 70% of persons living with HIV in the state are Black Americans.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was just passed by Congress last week, will once again deliver billions of dollars to 15 nations to address HIV prevention and treatment. Once again, GREAT!
Sadly, the rate of HIV/AIDS in Black America ranks higher than seven of those foreign countries that will receive those PEPFAR dollars in the coming months. The seven countries that have less of an HIV positive population than Black America are: Guyana, Rwanda, Haiti, Namibia, Vietnam, Botswana, and Ethiopia. Listen! There is no outcry to the suffering of Black America!
The African-American faith community is beginning to understand its essential role in addressing HIV/AIDS in Black America. As in the days of my yester years, our churches were those points of light that offered education, compassion and service to America’s darker citizens when our government’s adequate response to our needs and concerns were essentially missing.
Today, as many black churches throughout the U.S. are coming to the forefront as model programs of providing comprehensive HIV/AIDS education, testing, housing and other compassionate services, far too many continue to be silent. The vast majority of Black Americans are touched and reached weekly by the tentacles of an African-American church. Furthermore, the second largest employer of black people in America remains the African-American church.
For 19 years, The Balm In Gilead has been providing training and capacity development to our faith leaders and laity in helping churches to become sustainable community health promotion and disease prevention institutions, while engulfed in the ever-flowing stream of the Holy Spirit. At this critical moment in Black America and in public health history regarding HIV/AIDS, I invite all church leaders and members to re-dedicate themselves to the role of “leader” and seek God’s guidance in dismantling AIDS stigma and providing an adequate, effective response to HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.
When I was a child in Lincolnville, S.C., with various illnesses, my mom and I sat in “colored only” hospital waiting rooms and had to enter the doctors’ offices through the back door in order to be seen. It did not matter what time we arrived – always early in the morning – or the nature of our medical distress, we would not be seen by the doctor or the medical staff at the hospital until every white person had been served that day.
Waiting was the life of black folks when I was a child, particularly in areas of health and medicine. Today, Black Americans are still waiting for adequate health care and an appropriate response to its suffering regarding HIV/AIDS. However, the waiting is much longer! The world is in front of us!! It appears that the U.S. Cavalry is not coming to save us.
We must depend on ourselves! Every Black church in America is needed and required!