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!
Filed under: Black in America • Pernessa Seele
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I would love to know what, if any PSA's are airing on the music TV stations such as BET, MTV, etc...that try and educate the so called `uneducated' black viewers to do the right thing. And so what that Obama and Bill Cosby preach `down' to the black people. It's the attitude of the Rev. Al's, Rev. Jesse's, Rev. Wright's that put the denail thoughts into their followers minds. I have never heard the 3 ever preach responsibility to your kids and to your community. Maybe they have, but it's a shame that they can accuse others of preaching down to the blacks when it's quit obvious a lot of productive and responsible preaching needs to be done. At first I was dead set against Obama for President. But now, i think he is the right person for President. And maybe, just maybe, Obama will have a positive effect on some of the irresponsible behavior amongst the blacks. That goes for all others as well. I don't know...it's just a thought.
One more thing...The brothers on "down-low" aren't responsible for this alone! That is the sort of ignorant thinking that permeates the black community...urban legends!
Right now, more than 2/3 of women contracting this illness are black women. They are contracting this through heterosexual sex, from heterosexual men. The church and the media has helped to engrain the ignorance of this disease, by making it a "gay" disease, that thinking, in great part, is the thinking that has helped perpetuate genocide in this country! The thinking that a sexually transmitted disease can be contained to one group, one race, one type of person.
People are having sex. Until we, in the black community, take responsibility for the truth (give condoms to our youth and talk to them about sex before puberty; advocate condoms in prisons; stop villifying gay and lesbian brothers and sisters; have frank conversations about sex in schools, colleges, and churches) we will never get a hold of this epidemic. We need to understand the truth, that a person's morality should not be tied to what they do in the bedroom. It is a slave mentality, and the church should get in the business of protecting life, not using god to support the destruction of it. Any life, any type of person, should be valued. No blame should be put on anyone at this point, we need to come together!
This fight goes beyound personal responsibility... We need to bring our people along kicking and screaming. Just looking out for number one is why we have fallen victim to this. Get your boys to wear a condom, ladies get your girls to make their man to wear one. We have to save as many of us as we can before we vanish as people. We are fighting for our future... We must educate to survive.
Actually, Kevin in Dallas, a report issued in the past few weeks found that a genetic trait common in 40% of American blacks and something like 80% of African blacks does lead to a higher contraction rate of HIV. This gene, which protects them from contracting malaria, also make them more susceptible to HIV.
So, yeah, there is a genetic difference.
I'm not at all surprised that the HIV/AIDS rate is higher in the black population, and that's not a cultural statement. I believe that in large part it's due to genetics.
Several years ago, it was discovered that the Delta 32 gene mutation prevents the contraction of HIV. The mutation is found in 10% of people of European descent and 2% in central Asians. The mutation simply does not exist among Africans, East Asians and American Indians.
Yes, it would be nice if no one in the world was having sex outside of marriage. But that's not going to happen. Since there is no natural protection, these groups must be more vigilent about using protection.
Other than collecting donations, making speeches, and praying for HIV/AIDS to go away, what practical projects is The Balm In Gilead engaged in to improve the neglected black community in Richmond? I live in Richmond, Va and have never heard of you or your organization. I have, however; heard of many Richmond area free clinics and health departments that distribute free HIV/AIDS literature, free condoms, and free health screenings.
i wish more white Americans were educated. these responses disgust me and should embarrass you. Pernessa, I agree whole heartedly with your assessment....we must stand as a united front to cure the ills within our community. I am preparing myself even now for battle.
Let us not forget the is an "Aquired" disease. For the most part one must do something that include risks to get it. If it is on the rise then it is because people are taking (accepting) these risks. This is not a disease that strikes randomly but is spread through specfic activities. If you are going to call it a "Black" disease then you are also saying "Blacks" are not taking the responsibility to protect themselves. Responsibility is the key. Protect yourselves and others.
All of this data will be skewed if obama becomes president. himself, his family and all the white house staff he will bring to DC will increase the number of employeed black men and women in DC and those without HIV/AIDS so you won't rank like an african country anymore.
Bravo to 'Kevin in Dallas' his comment was spot on...
"Aids in black america isn’t a racial issue, it’s a cultural issue. Nothing about ones race has an impact on aids."
If the statistics disturb the African American comunity so much, have the determination do something about it. The government wouldn't have to step in, if we put into pratice what we are educated about... have safe sex. Don't disregard the teaching and expect the governement to drop everything to fix the problems that are preventable...
Its a tragety, but at least for us in America we are educated on HIV/AIDS and have the resources to take proper precautions. Not so much the case in places in Africa... Black Americans should be determinded to curve this statistic, white American's should stand right along side them.. It's not just a 'black' problem... we shouldn't divide the human race with 'racial statistics'.
AIDS is color blind. There also are more unwed mothers in the black community, and more fathers not paying child support. It's no secret what Aids is, nor how to prevent it.
My only conclusion is it's cultural, it's how black families raise their children. If Aids thrives in this envirorment, then like every other evolutionary stage, people will perish or wise up.
Once we learned not to place human waste in the street – may now we need to learn how to take responsibility for our sex lives.
In Africa wa can blame deaths on the Pope.
As a black person living with HIV, I can say that the response to the epidemic in America, primarily the black community, is abysmal at best.
Our community is so influenced by religious doctrine (even those people that don't attend church are affected by it) that this influence has driven many with the virus into silence, suffering with shame, and guilt over what many in the religious community call a just plague by god to punish homosexuals, and promiscuous people.
I contracted the virus in what I thought was a monogamous relationship. It may have been, but there is basically no support system in the black community, primarily mental health care support, after all this time.
I have to work tired, exhausted at times, because I am afraid to lose my insurance. I know people who get the government care, and they are treated like animals! It is shameful! I will work until I die before I lose my coverage and suffer the indignity these people go through. That, coupled with the shame, guilt and silent suffering of this disease is just too much.
I feel betrayed by my community at times. I feel betrayed by our religious leaders that did nothing, and by our politicians that have failed to give black Americans, the same care and resources that we send to foreign countries...Oh well, what is new about being black in this country?
"There is truth that you do have to take responsibility for your protection, but it also seems that Blacks were targeted with this disease".
@ DC in Mpls what a conspiracy theory! HIV started out in the homosexual community and spread into the heterosexual community. It's by our own ignorance in the beginning that it spread but now it's our own stupidity for not taking precautions in catching it. The government is not forcing blacks to have unprotected sex or to use intravenous drugs – take responsibilty for your own actions!
As an AA female, I do not NEED the government or anyone else to TELL me what is out there..I find out for myself..I read articles, I watch the news and I was raised to have more self-respect than to lay up with anyone without taking ALL necessary precautions...sadly not everyone has taken the time to find out, were not raised to take care of themselves or they just don't care that they are spreading STDS(not just AIDS) around...and yes, you do have some infected people who KNOWINGLY engage in unsafe sex..that is why it is PARAMOUNT that you be responsible for YOURSELF.....
A Luck, blacks that contract AIDS are not all "lower class"..that was a dumb statement
AIDS is not a disease of blacks or homosexuals. It is a disease of all mankind. I applaud the leadership role the black church is taking in combating this devastating disease but people still need to listen and act. For some 27 years we've known that the only cure is prevention. This requires individual responsibility and a rejection of careless behavior.
This is to the 2 black junkies who robbed me and my girlfriend at gunpoint while we just strolling along a quiet tree lined street with the full moon casting a romantic evening down on us. Not sure how much drugs can be bought with 125.00 dollars and a womens gold bracelet, but I hope you bought a diseaesed syringe and are suffering terribly now.
Put that in your statistics and smoke it.
I think making an AIDS test part of any normal bloodwork done at the doctors office or hospital is a start. I think we need to drop some of the sensitivity of this subject and start getting tough with people who refuse to cut back on the at risk behaviors.
Why should the calvary come? This is a self inflicted problem, just like the 50% high school dropout rate and 70% illigitimacy rate in the black community. If I set my house on fire, why should I expect the fire department to save it? Clean up your own act before you ask for someone else to do it for you.
Of course once again the government and current administration is scapegoated for a problem they have absolutely no control over. Playing the "victim of the government" card because you have an AIDS epidemic in your community is one of the most absurd ideas I've heard in a while. I'm just glad that the majority of the people posting here realize that it's a complete lack of personal responsibility followed up by bad decision making that's causing this epidemic, not a lack of government cash. It is not the government's job to bail it's citizens out every time they make a horribly poor decision.
I ask you this: What could more government money possibly do to help the situation here at home? It's not like people aren't educated about AIDS in this country. It's quite easy to prevent and if you follow a few simple rules you can almost be guaranteed to never get it.
The sense of entitlement in this country is downright disgusting. I just wanted to post because the majority of the comments in here actually showed me that there might still be a glimmer of hope for this country. As for the rest of you, stop blaming everyone and everything but yourselves and grow up.
The Calvary has never been there to help black people with any issue ask any American Indian. The church is failing every Black American today period that is how things got this bad. If you cannot reach out to your people every Sunday to save their lives, what good are you? The ANSWER is none. We need community-based leadership that will talk straight to our young people. Sex is a fact and we need to face that fact with education that is based homes and our schools. Every young black woman needs to be educated on birth control and given enough self-respect say no to a man (Black or White) who does not want to use a condom. If we start there, it does not mater how many black men are on the Down Low. As a black man now in his late 30’s it troubles me that we have failed our young women and thus failed our young men too. Ignorant young women make ignorant mothers, who raise ignorant sons who make for ignorant fathers, who create needy young girls… this cycle will destroy us. We can stop this…. We can save our people by saving our young women and break this cycle of evil.
The Math is simple. Man uses condom, HIV transmission rate to partner is 30%, no condom HIV transmission rate jumps to 75%.
The Message is simple: To every Black Man in America use a condom if you love the young woman you are having sex with. If you do not love her, love yourself enough to use a condom.
To the Black Churches of America: Get a clue and stop building Mega Churches and get those people on the streets helping our people every Sunday. Let us rebuild our community starting with the education our young black people and save there lives. They are our future. Old people praying for answers is no answer to our problems. This is our call to arms to save our people. Our time is now…
I think a more interesting study would to find out the demographics of the readers of this article. I would bet that the vast majority reading this article would be educated white people. The main problem is not that AIDS is growing among black Americans, it is the correlation between low education levels and increased disease contractions. The vast majority of people that this article is about (black people with AIDS) will never, or can't even, read it. That is the real tragedy.
G. Penley- I almost agree with you. Black Americans today are not taking full advantage of the opportunities that are there for us. However, you must realize that we are not simply talking about the past. There are still many systematic, and institutional roadblocks faced by blacks today that were put in place during the same past that you would like us to forget about. Still, in all, it is unfortunately true that many of us, especially our youth, are not taking advantage of the opportunities that are available, and are not fighting hard enough to break through the obstacles that exist.
AIDs is a disease that can be avoided be conducting yourself in a responsible manner. Certianly there are cases from tainted blood transfusions but they must be a small part of the infected population. My wife and I are very good friends with a black couple and celebrated their 25th anniversary together. I am pretty sure that they are very unlikely to get the disease.
I agree with the second to last sentence. Yes, you must depend on yourself. You must depend on yourself not to have unprotected sex or use used hypodermic needles (illegal drug users). AIDS is about prevention until a cure is found. Why are people catching it and spreading it? Because they don't care. They think having sex is more important than being safe about it. So, depend on yourself to be responsible for yourself.
AIDS in the Black community? Must be racism!
Personal responsibility is an out-dated idea.
Why is the government letting this happen?
Good damn America!
J in GA wrote:
“It is the ignorance of people like Mike who continue to hold onto the notion that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease.”
Lefties seem to be having a love affair with the word “ignorance.”
Please see “The Threat of a Global AIDS Epidemic is Over, Say Experts,” Mail Online, June 9th 2008.
“Rather than being a risk to populations anywhere, the threat in developed countries is largely confined to gay men, drug addicts and prostitutes and their clients…. large-scale heterosexual spread was unlikely to occur anywhere outside sub-Saharan Africa…”
Truth - a cure for ”ignorance.”
It's one thing to be uneducated, and unaware of this horrific disease, and then contract it. It's another thing, when the word AIDS, has been yelled from the rooftops, all accross this nation, for decades, yet folks continue to bow to the heat of the moment, rather than the small voice telling them " this could be risky activity". Pernessa, I give you great credit for acting on behalf of the black community, to try to make a diffrence. In the end, after all the education, informationals, speeches, etc., it comes down to individual choices, in all we do. Ultimately, as you well know, we will suffer, or reap the benefits of our decisions.
As you seem to say, the U.S. is a very generous country ,and In my opinion more blame should be placed at the feet of the wreckless.
One problem is that you can't talk about AIDS in church because many people who go are uncomfortable talking about sex, even though most of them engage in it. There is truth that you do have to take responsibility for your protection, but it also seems that Blacks were targeted with this disease. If you think about it, it's the most effective form of population control that you could inject into a community.
Men on the "down low" must account for a large part of the spread of the disease. They are being locked up for long periods of time, denied either female company, or condoms, having sex with men, then going back into the community at large having sex with women. Who in turn have sex with other men , who have sex with other women.
If we don't do something soon, there will not any Blacks who forefathers were slaves here. Which may be the point. Why not get rid of Blacks who always remind whites of their dirty past, and import some Black who only know that whites are good.
I was in a discussion about race with some Africans, and they said that they had no problems with whites, that their hatred was directed at others Black tribes. Seems that Blacks hating each other is worldwide. How sad.
-Wear a condom.
-Stop having sex with everything that moves.
-Take responsibilty for your actions.
Black America, take responsibility for your own actions. It's way past time. The past is the past, and cannot be changed. You can either get over it or use it as an excuse, which becomes less and less crdible every day.
I know you wrote from the heart Anderson, and you're right, the Cavalry ain't coming. The messages to help stop it, have to be bigger, which means the life rewards, whatever they may be, have to be recognized as greater. I know. More idealistic stuff. Forgive me.
The majority of AIDS patients catch this disease by sexual transmission or by the use of shared drug needles. The number of "innocent" victims being infected by blood transfusions or other legitimate medical procedures is very small. So why is it when the black community has a problem (large number of single parent families, lower percentage of married black women than white married women, ad infintum) it is always because of "white" America? It would seem that black America is bringing this disease upon itself.
"Black" America needs to look squarely at itself, its glorification of poor role models (ex. rappers), its failure to hold its male population responsible for the children they bring into this world, its disproportionate percentage of this country's prison population, and on and on and on. "B;ack" America needs to step up and take control of its problem. Medical care after the fact is of course critical, but equally important are efforts to prevent continued high infection rates. The black community has failed and continues to fail in this respect. Stop blaming others for what has become a continual series of missteps and failures in your own communities.
As with anything else, PEOPLE, not just black people, need to be accountable for their actions. There is no lack of education that is causing this AIDS epidemic. Maybe years ago, but no longer. Although they continue to run programming that promotes promiscuity and low values on a daily basis, even some of the most popular "Urban" music video programs and stations have gone out of their way to run ad campaigns regarding AIDS and other STDs directed squarely at the young black audience. People have to make better decisions regarding who (and how many) they choose to be with, and how they protect themselves when they are with someone. There are very few people today at even the younger ages, who do not know what AIDS is, and that it can be deadly. The epidemic will continue as long as people refuse to take responsibility and make better choices.
This article is not about pointing fingers at the causes of AIDS in Black America. Or blaming others. The article is about the inadequate response to AIDS in America. Specifically the inadequate response to AIDS in Black America. It's about taking responsibility for our own citizens.
It asks a very good question: why do we shovel cash and other aid to African countries to fight and treat AIDS, yet we spend so little to fight and treat AIDS in our own communities? AIDS has a significant economic toll at home and has the potential to create instability much as it does abroad.
And surely some of those that suffer from AIDS in Africa acquired it in some of the same ways as those suffering from AIDS in the US. So don't take up the "cause" argument.
Think about the response.
Regardless of who you would blame it is a disease that will spread and it must be aggressively treated and contained. Taking personal responsibility yes is part of the plan of action. But, we must make our own citizens a top priority.
So who, if anyone, is surprised at this statistic? In Africa I'd chalk it up to ignorance and lack of protection. In the US it's pure stupidity.
Once again the bush administration shows it's true colors. What if this epidemic was striking CEOs or wealthy white men? There would be panic in the streets and action from the white house faster than one can imagine. This administration cares NOTHING about people of color especially if they contract a disease deemed distasteful to w's "bible beating" sensibilities. He thinks that they deserve what they get. Sad.
That's funny because in San Francisco and Seattle and Portland, Or 65% of people with HIV are white? I guess the stats only matter if the help the black community.
The information on how to prevent AIDS has been available for a very long time. Advertising prevention is on TV and in schools and in almost every doctor's office. The government has done their job in the US. The public is informed. They can not force you to use a clean needle for drugs or wear a condom or stop indiscriminate sex. As a tax payer I am tried of paying for treatment of a disease that is totally preventable.
It is the ignorance of people like Mike who continue to hold onto the notion that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease. To him I say get over it, it has nothing to do with being down-low but everything to do with responsibility on the part of both participating parties.
Mike, you're not being real. You need to point the finger at the brothers who can't keep it in their pants for five minutes (straight and gay), and the ladies for putting up with them. Personal responsibility folks! And I'm a black woman saying this.
You are a brave amazing woman Pernessa. Thank you for choosing compassion over intolerance. I hope that many, many people–myself and my community included–follow your lead!
We live in America where access to free condoms are so prevalent and education is freely available. This is not the case in Africa and many of those countries are too poor to even have adequate food much less access to condoms so of course we should help them out. The problem with people in America is we all expect a handout. No wonder Oprah opened up a school in Africa – they truly appreciated the gesture while here we EXPECT it. How sad is that? The black community needs to take it's own responsibility with all these sexual issues – AIDS and single parent homes. We're not denying you access to condoms – it's your choice to use them.
Absolutely right. We spend millions of dollars in international aid while we neglect people at home. The same could be said for all the homeless Vietnam veterans. Over 90% of the homeless population are veterans. How are we serving our own country? We are in debt up to our eyeballs and sending money overseas.
AIDS epidemic demonstrates the need for restraint. If you maintain monogamous relationships, AIDS is never a factor in your life. It's time to wake up. Sleeping around is not just low class, it's downright dangerous now.
Highest STD rates in the US? Highest unwed mother rate in the US?
Gee Rev. Wright how will you blame whites for this? After all they control condoms and no one can use them without their permission.
1. Better parenting. Actually scratch that. ANY parenting...(ie- BOTH parents).
2. Use a condom (they can be had for free at clinics).
3. Stop sticking dirty needles in your arm.
It's really NOT that hard to prevent contracting the disease.
What are we supposed to do? Assign a social worker to EVERY SINGLE lower class Black American and have them follow that person around 24/7 and babysit them ?????????????
Very true.. Everything starts with self accountability.. But if no kidnapping would have happened, we wouldnt be having this conversation.. and as far as AIDS in Africa.. do some research and not be so gullible, check when this BS govt started it in NY..yea NY!
Aids in black america isn't a racial issue, it's a cultural issue. Nothing about ones race has an impact on aids. If you don't want to get aids, take all necessary precautions, up to and including abstinence if need be. And don't try to play this off as the government being racist either. White people are at least five times more likely to develop skin cancer than non-white people. Where's the government aid to their beloved white people with skin cancer? Same place as your aids aid, no where. 8,000 people die every year from melanoma in the united states (almost all white), and 14,000 people die every year from aids in the united states, so neither one is a disease that should be taken lightly.
Point the finger squarely at the brothas on the down-low.
Everyone has to take responsibility of their own selves when it comes to AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease. You can't rely on anyone else! So stop blaming others and point the finger where it belongs...at ones own self.