At Least We're Not Dying from AIDS: a Retrospective
By Michael Hinson
Monday, February 7, 2011 was National Black AIDS Awareness Day, a day of reflection about HIV disease in Black communities all around the world. As I have reflected over the past couple days (knowing this day was coming), I am reminded about my own journey from not knowing about the disease to knowing and at times cycling back to not knowing again and then back to knowing. I am reminded about my cousin's, two black gay men and two heterosexual black mothers who lost their lives to HIV in the prime of their life. I am reminded that we are not only reflecting on tragedy of too many Black lives lost or on the lives of Black Gay Men hanging in the balance, but we are also reminded about the bravery, the triumphs and successes in our communities that inspire us to be liberated from our own fear, that we might inspire the liberation of others as referenced by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inauguration speech.
Personally I am reminded about Rashidah Abdul Khabeer, about David Fair, about Tyrone Smith, about Arnold Jackson and so many others who inspired my liberation. I am reminded that without their nurturing, their tough love, their gentle nudging, I too might be the subject of a hushed conversation in my southern hometown, as Arnold's 1992 piece entitled "At Least we're Not Dying From AIDS" suggest.
In their unique ways, this Philadelphia based herstorian and historians inspired the greatness that I humbly acknowledge and accept as my own personal destiny for which I am thankful. I am thankful for Rashidah's gifts of strength, bravery and consciousness. I am thankful for David's intellectual, strategic and unwavering commitment gifts. I am thankful for Tyrone's "I'm Black, Gay and Proud" and "Hey, baby it is gonna be okay" gift's. I am thankful for Arnold's gifts of wisdom, communication and retrospect.
The theme for this year's National Black AIDS Awareness Day is one we all know very well-"It Takes A Village to Fight HIV/AIDS! As the Centers for Disease Control's press release states "it is a call to action for a collective and integrated approach at the individual, community and national level to prevent the spread of HIV in African American communities". I am thankful that my "village" understood this notion some twenty years ago and that I understand it today. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the solution.
I am also reminded in my reflection today that African Americans who represent 14 percent of the population, account for 52 percent of the diagnoses in 2008 representing almost half of those living with and dying from HIV. I am reminded that African American men are 9 times more likely to have HIV than white men and I am reminded that African American women are 18 times more likely to have HIV than white women.
Today, as you reflect on what this day and this disease means to you, be encouraged. Many of us are also reflecting. Many have joined the "village" to fight this disease. Many are living with, not dying from this disease. Many are opening the doors of opportunity and closing the doors of inadequacies in our health care system, the high incarceration rates, low income, low educational attainment, racism, stigma, and homophobia.
As I have been encouraged by my mentors, I encourage you to mentor--to be an encouragement. Tell someone today, they matter. Tell someone today that HIV is preventable. Tell someone today that HIV doesn't have to be a death sentence. Tell someone today that their future holds a greatness that was given first as a gift from God. Tell them that their life never has to be a hushed conversation, emblazoned in the stigma that my friend Arnold wrote about almost ten years ago.