The national message that Black lives matter somehow has not translated to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Statistics show that Black and Brown people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS nationally, and this demands a new creative response that is timely and effective.
Commemorating the annual National Black HIV/AIDS Day that was started in 1999, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation formed its Black AIDS Crisis Taskforce (ABACT) at a celebrity-filled private champagne brunch in Hollywood, California at H.O.M.E., a Black-owned live jazz supper club.
In collaboration with celebrities and prominent cultural influencers, ABACT will draw attention to national infection rates among African Americans, and the need for intensified efforts to connect African Americans living with HIV to medical care and support.
Entertainers including Ledisi, B. Slade, Yolanda Adams, Jussie Smollett (plays Jamal on the new Fox show “Empire”) and many others came out to answer the call.
The ABACT event laid the foundation for slowing the rates of HIV/AIDS infections and deaths among Blacks by empowering and encouraging its members and partners to use their platforms to be a relatable voice of support for HIV testing and treatment.
“Whether people are afraid to get tested out of fear of the results or are in denial about their status, stigma and shame is literally killing thousands in our community each year,” said Christopher Johnson, AHF’s Associate Director of Communication and ABACT co-chair.
“The goal of ABACT is to form viable partnerships with cultural leaders in the Black community to create a true sense of urgency around the Black HIV/AIDS crisis, especially among young people who are largely unfamiliar with the early struggle,” Johnson said.
According to CDC reports, Black Americans account for almost half (44 percent) of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, yet they only account for 12 percent of the population.
Black Americans are the least likely of any other race or ethnicity to be retained in medical care to become virally suppressed through anti-retro viral drug therapy after becoming HIV positive.
By encouraging health advocates and cultural influencers to help combat stigma and shame in the African-American community, ABACT’S members believe the deep-seated fear that prevents people from knowing their status and consistently sticking to a treatment regimen can be removed.
Smollett, who portrays a gay character on the hit Fox series “Empire”, knows that addressing the subject of homophobia in the Black community as well as HIV/AIDS is a heavy lift. He was among a panel that discussed how stigma attitudes and silence equals death for African Americans.
Smollett said, “Art can change the world. My character is dealing with real issues, rich topics that really resonate with many.” He says he receives thousands of letters from young people saying they relate to his character Jamal.
Yolanda Adams said, “It’s time to rally the community, the church and the world to make them understand that we have to combat this.”
The taskforce is encouraging community leaders and influential members of the community to join ABACT in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.