Local World AIDS Day community program held at Samuel L. Delevoe Park
Local World AIDS Day community program held at Samuel L. Delevoe Park
By Charles Moseley
If you want to know what the face of AIDS looks like just take a look in the mirror. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is an equal opportunity disease which does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, rich or poor, even young or old; you too can be infected by the virus that causes AIDS. Whether you’re gay or straight, a Democrat or a Republican, anyone can contract the HIV/AIDS virus.
Over 40,000 new Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections are reported in the U.S. each year. One in every four people living with HIV do not know they are infected. Over a million people are living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in the U.S. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., more than 600,000 deaths have been reported.
World AIDS Day falls on Dec. 1st each year. And although there have been major strides made in scientific research by experts in the HIV/AIDS medical community, there still is no cure for this deadly virus. Despite these gains, many people are unaware that they are infected and living with HIV. HIV/AIDS experts strongly urge that everyone be tested for the HIV/AIDS virus; they say everyone should be aware of their HIV status.
In the heart of Fort Lauderdale’s Black community, local HIV/AIDS organizations gathered along with other community groups and local healthcare providers at Samuel Delevoe Park in Fort Lauderdale in a display of solidarity during this year’s local World AIDS DAY Program.
Bobby R. Henry Sr., publisher of the Westside Gazette newspaper, opened the ceremony with prayer. Henry challenged a group of several hundred who participated in the program to join in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Henry also said HIV/AIDS affects the en-tire community, not just those infected by the virus.
“The theme of today’s program is We Care. Do you? HIV/AIDS has been called an ugly disease. This disease does not affect just one person, it affects all of us. When we attack those infected with this ugly disease, that’s ugly,” said Henry.
South Florida has the dubious distinction of being among the leading areas in the country with the highest number of newly reported AIDS cases in America. Miami Dade County and Broward County have ranked first and second on the list of areas having the highest number of AIDS cases per capita in the United States. Florida has the third highest number of AIDS cases per capita in the United States. Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of children with AIDS.
Children are also at risk with respect to the HIV/AIDS virus. The Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center (CDTC) in Fort Lauderdale was established in 1983 as the follow-up program of the state’s Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Center system. CDTC has grown to be one of the largest children’s agencies in South Florida, serving over 10,000 children and youth annually. CDTC’s focus has always been to provide medical care, case management, social services and other types of intervention to children and adolescents with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities and to provide support and education to their families.
Jean Starkey is a Chronic Care Specialist with CDTC. This was Starkey’s ninth year as chairperson for the World AIDS Day community event. Starkey called on residents as well as community leaders and community based organizations to join with AIDS Awareness groups to help fight the spread of HIV. She said the 33311 zip code in Fort Lauderdale is among the hardest hit communities with people infected with HIV/AIDS in the country.
“What we’ve learned over the past several years is that if we come to the community and we extend that we care and that we’re here just to stand by them, typically they’re a little more open.
“The message is just that we care. The area 33311 is like the heart of the pandemic in the community. We act as though we know but unless we ask those who are living in the silence, then we truly don’t. Our hope is that people walk away knowing that we care and they don’t have to be alone.”
In the U.S., 74 percent of all AIDS cases are among men. Of the reported HIV cases among men, 72 percent in Miami and 75.8 percent in Broward are Men who have sex with men (MSM).Almost half of the HIV cases among men living with HIV/AIDS in Florida in recent years were MSM. MSMs are a topic rarely discussed by those in the African American com-munity although clearly AIDS among that segment of society is one that has recently gained more attention by organizations which focus on HIV/AIDS awareness and education.
Henry Ross is an Outreach Specialist with the Minority Development & Empowerment, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale. He also is involved with an organization called Many Men, Many Voices (3MV) which offers an outreach program aimed at educating Black men regarding HIV/AIDS.
“Many Men Many Voices is a CDC-based organization focused around HIV prevention and behavior motivation for Black men. We have many different programs everything from housing opportunities for people with AIDS. We have medical case management and health services. We also offer tax services for people in need of tax relief. We also help support the community in the area of behavioral motivation, HIV support and prevention.”
Dr. Kimberly Holding has been treating PLWHAs for the past 20 years. She conducted an HIV/AIDS presentation as part of the program. She offered several points regarding HIV/AIDS and the Black community.
“As a medical provider and HIV Specialist, I think that the World AIDS Day is a significant celebration that is global but we really need to emphasize to the Black community it’s time to get rid of the discrimination and the stigma in our community so that people can learn to heal themselves and get help so that they can prevent further spread and don’t become a victim if the disease.”
Karlton Johnson is the principal of Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. He joined along with students from Blanche Ely High to show his support for educating young people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS among teenagers. His school offers a course which teaches students the do’s and don’ts regarding HIV/AIDS prevention.
“We have a BAND AIDS program at Blanche Ely High School. It’s a program where students decided to get together to talk about an epidemic that impacts our African American community and also the school’s that have that demographic. Our students are doing more of student awareness on campus. They wear their shirts, they share information, and they bring guess speakers to the school and talk about this epidemic in the community which not only affects adults but also affects our youth.”
A group of students from Hallandale High School came by bus from the south end of Broward County to participate in the community World AIDS DAY event. Jordin Roberts, a 14-year-old ninth grader and Janae Williams, 16, also represented their school mates. They both shared why they felt it was important for young people to learn more about HIV/AIDS.
“It is good to know about AIDS because if you get in a predicament you will know what to do,” said Roberts
It’s very important to be a-ware of what HIV/AIDS is all about because they can affect your lives. If you’re going to have sex at least you will know what you’re getting yourself into. I know some who are HIV positive. People who don’t know that they are [positive] treat them as normal but when they tell them, they treat them like they are different. I think you should treat them the same. They are all people; they just made a bad decision,” said Williams.