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Let our faith light the way

Leisha McKinley-Beach

Let our faith light the way

Leisha McKinley-Beach, director of technical assistance and stakeholder engagement at the Black AIDS Institute.

     The National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS was started in 1989 by Pernessa Seele, the founder and CEO of the Balm in Gilead, as the Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. What started as a door-to-door outreach to faith leaders in Harlem, N.Y., almost 25 years ago has grown to an international faith observance that is being marked this week, March 3-9.

     How can people of faith light the way? A few years ago I managed an HIV media campaign whose intended audience were communities of faith. During the campaign, we launched a slogan that shifted the focus from awareness to action: “Our faith is stronger when it is tested.” The phrase helped mobilize testing initiatives in churches throughout the area. Every person of faith should know his or her status by having an HIV test.

     There are many ways that faith-based organizations can work not only to end the HIV epidemic in Black America by addressing it in their community but also to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Below, I’ve listed activities that several faith organizations around the country are undertaking to shine their light throughout their local areas. Let this list inspire you and embolden you to act in your own faith community. 

In the Image of Christ (Fort Pierce, Fla.)

     In the Image of Christ provides free HIV and STI prevention, testing and education services to the community, including on-site and outreach testing, rapid HIV testing and OraSure rapid hepatitis C testing, HIV counseling and referrals. In addition to testing, the church offers behavioral interventions such as Sisters Informing Sisters About Topics on AIDS (SISTA) and Video Opportunities for Innovative Condom Education and Safer Sex (VOICES).

Metropolitan Interdenominational Church First Response Center (Nashville, Tenn.)

     The First Response Center provides a wide range of HIV and substance abuse-related services, including outreach, prevention education and testing, risk-reduction counseling, HIV/AIDS support groups, case management, pastoral counseling and care, emergency financial assistance, emergency housing, substance abuse treatment, relapse prevention, transportation, nutritional assistance, mental-health counseling, primary health-care services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, capacity building and technical assistance to other organizations interested in implementing HIV-prevention programs.

Greater Than AIDS Philadelphia

     Greater Than AIDS, in partnership with Philly Faith in Action, launched the first Greater Than AIDS faith-focused campaign in Philadelphia. Billboards were posted around the city featuring faith leaders promoting HIV testing. More than 100 pastors and imams led HIV outreach efforts in their congregations, and many faith organizations partnered with Bebashi, an AIDS service organization, to offer HIV testing at houses of worship.

     During this Week of Prayer, I ask you to promote HIV testing at places of worship and to encourage your faith institution to learn about the local HIV care and treatment centers in your area. Most important, it’s vital that we all engage in dialogue that addresses HIV as a community problem that we can solve as a community.

     Let’s stop HIV together, because together we are greater than AIDS.

Leisha McKinley-Beach is director of technical assistance and stakeholder engagement at the Black AIDS Institute.



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