Earlier this month marked the 34th anniversary of World AIDS Day. But conversations about HIV and AIDS and its ongoing impact on Black communities and families aren’t relegated to specially designated days.
In honor of World AIDS Day, Urban One and Gilead partnered on an engaging dialogue, “CREATING EQUITY, TAKING ACTION: A COMMUNITY CONVERSATION ABOUT ENDING THE HIV EPIDEMIC IN BLACK COMMUNITIES.” Celebrities like Atlanta entrepreneur and Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Kandi Burruss and Radio One personality Gary With Da Tea, joined community leaders and advocates to discuss ways to continue moving the needle toward renewed purpose.
Speaking with NewsOne before the event, Burruss said she became aware of HIV and AIDS during the 1990s after a woman family member acquired HIV. Black men and women were disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection than their white counterparts.
“Nobody really thought about the fact that it does affect women,” she said. “I’ve learned more and realized that Black women were disproportionately the ones who end up acquiring HIV.”
Burrus said it was important for her to leverage her platform to raise awareness. She shared that as the owner of a sex-positive brand Bedroom Kandi, it is important to be responsible about all aspects of sexuality, including safe sex.
“For a long time, I had done Kandi Koated Nights, and a main part of our opening of each show was practice safe sex,” she said. “You can’t have open conversations about sex and relationships all the time if you don’t also want to have the conversation about safe sex and what can come along with it.”
Progress in HIV treatment and overcoming stigma
Gary Hayes, better known to radio listeners as Gary With Da Tea, shared that he worked as a part of the AIDS team with Baylor Hospital in Dallas and with visiting nurses. The Rickey Smiley Morning Show contributor has long been an ally to the cause, previously serving as an ambassador for the AIDS Walk in Atlanta and Dallas.
“There’s definitely still a fight,” Hayes said. “It’s changing tremendously, which is a good thing, but you know, we still have a long way to go.”
Despite advances in treatment and overall quality of life, the stigma attached to living with HIV persists. Brandon Dottin-Haley spoke with NewsOne about living and thriving with HIV. Joined by his husband Blair, Dottin-Haley shared that he learned of his diagnosis shortly after getting engaged.
“I think a lot of people have to recognize that HIV is not the kind of boogeyman, the monster, that it was portrayed as throughout the 80s. And the 90s,” he said. “We’re dealing with the brunt of the Reagan era and the avoidance of the HIV and AIDS crisis. And that impact is just now starting to be acknowledged.”
Dottin-Haley said the decades of neglect are only now really coming into focus and hopes that Black communities can continue expanding the dialogue.
The couple owns their own clothing and apparel line that uplifts and celebrates Black people. But Dottin-Haley said he has been stepping more into the HIV advocacy lane.
“I realized that as a person who is HIV positive, I’ve also got to kind of narrow in and also focus on supporting and uplifting my community,” Dottin-Haley said. “There are people who have been doing this work and who have uplifted me in my own journey, who I am grateful for and would not be here without.”
The fight for an HIV cure spans generations
Student leader Byron Perkins made headlines in October as the first openly gay HBCU football player. Perkins said he participated in the event because opening the dialogue about a big issue in the Black community was important.
“Gilead offers a medication PREP across the world, and I feel like, in a lot of ways, it needs to be offered tenfold to the Black community,” he said. “It’s important that young black men understand that they have a safe haven and that they are loved and that they are respected, and that they’re cared for.”
Perkins said communicating with Black youth about safe sex is critical, as is breaking through the stigma attached to HIV.
“It’s going to continue to ravage, and it’s going to continue to take and take more lives and ruin more lives,” he said. “It’s necessary that we take the necessary precautions.”
And Young folks aren’t the only ones who need to be concerned with safe sex. Burruss noted that older adults also saw a sharp increase in STI rates, including HIV. Testing has become more accessible in recent years. Burruss mentioned even the availability of at-home tests.
“All ages have to be more cautious of how you’re living,” she said. “But just be more cautious of how you’re living and what you should do in being tested and prevention.”
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