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Published:June 8th, 2006 04:41 EST
AIDS Back in Black

AIDS Back in Black

By George Curry (Former Featured Editor)

NEW YORK – When a strange disease, later known as AIDS, was first detected at UCLA 25 years ago, it was difficult to get African-Americans interested in what was largely dismissed as “White gay disease.”

Today, however, AIDS is increasingly considered largely a “Black disease” that afflicts both gays and straights, males and females. “Today, more than half of all people living with HIV/AIDS and newly-infected with HIV each year in the United States are Black,” Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said at a news conference here Monday.

“Among women, Blacks account for two-thirds of all new infections. And recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies estimate nearly half of all Black gay and bisexual men in some of America’s urban centers are already infected. These facts represent an unprecedented crisis for Black America.”

Wilson and Pernessa Seele, founder of the Balm in Gilead and a major organizer of Black church efforts in the U.S. and Africa, have had a major impact on helping African-Americans realize that HIV and AIDS are ravaging Blacks in the U.S. and around the world, especially in Africa.

The heightened awareness was evident at the news conference called by Wilson. Among those present to lend support were actor Danny Glover, U.S. Representatives Charles Rangel and Donna M Christenson, NAACP President Bruce Gordon, Reverends Gregory Smith of Mother AME Zion Church and Edwin Sanders of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church; National Urban League Senior Vice President for Programs Donald Bowen; Rachel Guglielmo of the Open Society Institute, and news media representatives from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), American Urban Radio Networks and Black Entertainment Television.

All have signed on to Phill Wilson’s call to “win” the AIDS fight over the next five years. His organization issued a new report titled, “AIDS in Black Face: 25 Years of an Epidemic.” Wilson said the report, which chronicles Black America’s AIDS epidemic, “make it clear that a quarter century into America’s saga with AIDS, the epidemic is more Black than ever.” The 25 years of AIDS is not an anniversary one likes to celebrate. And it’s important to not to get caught up in the past, Wilson says.

“While this reports looks back at the first 25 years of the AIDS epidemic, it’s not a report about our yesterdays,” he said. “It is a proclamation about our tomorrows with recommendations for individuals, communities, and elected officials on how to end the AIDS epidemic in Black America.” One can no longer dismiss AIDS as a “White disease.” Some of the most notable AIDS-related deaths of African-Americans include tennis great Arthur Ashe, journalist Max Robinson, Rev. James Cleveland, dance choreographer Alvin Ailey and rapper Eric “Easy E” Wright.

The “AIDS in Blackface” report observes: “The epidemic’s frontline is quickly shifting from larger, northern cities to the more dispersed communities of the South. Today, seven of the 10 states with the highest per capita AIDS rates are in the South, and 41 percent of people living with HIV are in the Southeast. It is a particularly Black epidemic. Eight of the 10 Blackest state epidemics are in the South.” A chart in the report breaks it down on a state-by- state basis. For example, African-Americans are 26 percent of the population in Alabama, but 63 percent of the AIDS cases; Blacks are 15 percent of the population in Florida yet account for 49 percent of the AIDS cases; in Georgia, Blacks represent 70 percent of all AIDS cases while constituting 29 percent of the population; Mississippi is 37 percent Black but African-Americans are 73 percent of the AIDS cases; the Tennessee Black population is 16 percent, with African-Americans accounting for just more than half – 52 percent – of those with AIDS; Blacks represent 11 percent of the Texas population and 35 percent of the AIDS cases there and Virginia, with a 19 percent Black population, has a 59 percent share.

Blacks also represent more than half of all AIDs cases in Delaware (68 percent), the District of Columbia (82 percent), Illinois (52 percent), Louisiana (66 percent), Maryland (80 percent). Michigan (58 percent), New Jersey (55 percent), North Carolina (69 percent), Pennsylvania (53 percent) and South Carolina (73 percent).

Recommendations include: - Rejecting the idea that HIV and AIDS is inevitable; - Demanding that proven weapons such as needle exchanges and arming youth with more than abstinence only information be expanded; - Expanding access to treatment; - Ending the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. The report stated, “In the final analysis, this epidemic isn’t terribly complicated: When we allow politics, subjective notions of morality and profit- driven health economics to reign over public health, the most vulnerable in our society are left for HIV to prey upon.” George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and

To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site,