National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2013
Observed each year on February 7, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) is a day to promote HIV testing and raise awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Black community-one of the communities hardest hit by the disease. This year’s NBHAAD theme, "I am my brother/sister’s keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS," reminds us that to effectuate change in any movement, we must work together for the collective good and sometimes this work requires us to put up a good fight.
The spirit of this theme is reflected in the 2013 Academy Award nominated documentary film, "How to Survive a Plague" about the history of AIDS activism in the 1980s and ’90s. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the film shows how two groups, ACT UP and Total Action Group (TAG), helped shape the country’s response to the AIDS crisis.
During a time of little hope, this diverse group of men and women put all they had on the line to make sure that the nation listened and responded to their need for a national treatment strategy for the disease. Armed with their voices and fueled by their anger and passions, they stormed government buildings, pharmaceutical companies, political events, and churches chanting the message "Act up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS." They fought hard and people listened. Sadly, many of these heroes died without getting to see the fruits of their labor-advances in the treatment of the disease that allows people living with HIV/AIDS to live longer lives.
Despite the gains made as a result of such bold, in-your-face activism, the struggle continues and certain communities are more adversely affected than others. More than any other racial/ethnic minority group, the Black community, and Black gay men in particular, continue to be disproportionately affected by this disease. In young, Black gay men, the numbers are especially staggering with approximately 1 in 4 new HIV infections occurring among this group according to the CDC.
Several factors drive this disparity and it is time for us to not just talk about it but to also take action. While some are seeing the possibilities of an AIDS free generation, we cannot get there until we address these things. The stigma of HIV coupled with homophobia, is one of those factors that continues to contribute to the slow response to addressing the HIV in the Black community. Until we can have real conversations about the issues that divide us, we will continue to lose this battle. Furthermore, the absence of one clear, unifying leader in this movement continues to hinder any effective strategy to combat the problem.
It is time for us to stop looking for that one person to organize us. The late anthropologist Margaret Meade is credited with saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Whether it starts with a small group or a large group, it is important that we continue the work started by groups like ACT UP and TAG so that the stories and lessons are not forgotten. Those of us who have the privilege of learning about these stories also have a responsibility to carry on the legacy, because as the saying goes, "those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it."
This year, for NBHAAD, think about what you can do to Act Up. Fight Back. Fight AIDS.