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In Uncategorized on May 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

I distinctly remember the day that my basketball idol, Magic Johnson, announced that he contracted the HIV virus. That was 1991. In my house, and I suspect many other homes, when I got “the talk,” it definitely did not include HIV or AIDS. But as time would illustrate, HIV and AIDS would take center stage as Ryan White put a uniquely different face to the disease–challenging the notion the disease was a gay disease. As unfortunate as Ryan’s circumstance was, I attribute Ryan White’s trials and struggles to opening that dialogue between my mother and me. And as did Ryan, Magic challenged that dialogue, and again changed the face of HIV and AIDS.

I can recall the television specials, Salt N Pepa’s song “Let’s Talk About Sex,” but it was one Hydeia Broadbent who left an indelible mark on me. I remember wanting to hold her to tell her, it will be “ok,” and that “life was not fair,” and then I got angry and cried my eyes out. But while I saw the pain in her face on that Nickelodeon special, Magic comforted her (and I thought she brought him some peace and comfort with his recent diagnosis) and there I saw the possibility of living and educating others.

Since then, the face of HIV is disproportionately Black. According to CDC’s November 2011 news release, “African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States (US). Despite representing only 14% of the US population in 2009, African Americans accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections in that year. Compared with members of other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease—from new infections to deaths.” And while the statistics keep mounting, more generally, the statistics reflect that behavior is not changing. In an opinion piece, Stacey Latimer asks a very simple, yet poignant question: “The question remains, why does HIV/AIDS have such a stronghold in the African-American community?” His response: “The answer is as complex as the forces that fuel its spread. We live in one of the richest, most powerful countries in the free world, yet we have been absolutely powerless in ending poverty, illiteracy, classism, racism, oppression and ignorance…The weight of the evidence, from my perspective, suggests the virus is spreading due to the dehumanizing force of homophobia. I believe that homophobia is perpetuated by fundamentalist religions which refuse to operate in Agape – a divine, unconditional love…”

And so, for Blacks and Black clergy, where to go now? Is teaching abstinence the best way? Most recently, with President Obama’s announcement in support of same-sex marriage, only to be followed by the NAACP announcing same-sex marriage as a civil right, the dialogue became increasingly complex. At its core, fundamental religious views are brought front and center, from discussing homosexuality, premarital sex, children born out of wedlock, HIV and other STIs, the social and religious context converge to perhaps fuel the next great movement in the Black community, in the Black church in general, not too dissimilar from the Civil Rights Movement–instead march for education, empowerment, and embracing. Would Jesus do that?

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