To educate people about HIV and AIDS, faith leaders throughout the nation spoke awareness, safe sex, and abstinence from the pulpit on July 20, the NAACP’s third annual day of unity. One of the faith leaders on the list is the Rev. Anthony (Tony) Lee, from Community of Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church, Hillcrest Heights, Md.
According to a Department of Health report released in 2013, as of 2011, there were 15,056 (2.4 percent) residents living in the D.C., who were infected with HIV. For Black residents that percentage jumps to 3.7 percent, and for Black men, it’s up to 5.4 percent. Black heterosexual women accounted for 18 percent of all new D.C. cases between 2007 and 2011, and 75 percent of all these new cases occurred in the Black population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses. African Americans make up the majority of the undiagnosed, the NAACP reported on its website.
“We are regularly talking about HIV and AIDS, one to reduce the stigma, so that it can be something to talk about and sex can be something that you talk about in church,” Rev. Lee, a national HIV ambassador for the NAACP, said.
For over eight years Rev. Lee has preached about sex and HIV to thousands of church members. His church also provides HIV testing on a quarterly basis.
This year the Day of Unity fell on day that focused on the youth, enabling Rev. Lee to educate younger masses about the epidemic. However, according to Rev. Lee, the youth at his church hear talks about safe sex and HIV awareness constantly. “Young people need to hear their pastors and be in church in a way that they can hear these issues being talked about,” he said. “The church needs to be able to have a language they can talk to help them navigate and grow and learn and that kind of stuff and understand what God has to say about these things.”
Although, preaching HIV and AIDS awareness is not a new concept, the NAACP believes that the day will unite faith leaders nationwide and build a movement that will inspire Black communities to take action, according to the Black Church and HIV Social Imperative website. “If we don’t take action to do something, the epidemic will continue to disproportionately affect our families – brothers, sisters and the community at large,” the Rev. Keron Sadler, NAACP national HIV manager, said.
However, Rev. Sadler says the disease is such an epidemic amongst African Americans because of a systemic problem, not their own behaviors. “HIV disparities have more to do with the systemic realities of health care in society than it does with individual or group behavior,” she said, referencing poverty and the lack of access to health care in the Black community. “We’ve got to address institutional issues before we can begin to address behavior issues.”
She said the Affordable Health Care Act was one government strategy aimed at reducing racial and ethnic disparities, providing a clear road for annual testing and access to healthcare.
To learn more about the day of unity and ways to encourage HIV and AIDS awareness, visit http://www.theblackchurchandhiv.org/.