HRC Blog

Mobilizing Response of African-American Churches and Communities to HIV/AIDS

The following post comes from Rev. Anthony Sullivan Jr., HIV/AIDS Community Consultant with the United Church of Christ HIV/AIDS Network:

I am an African-American, same gender loving (SGL) clergy person. When initially diagnosed with HIV, I set aside both personal and professional plans since I did not expect to live a long and healthy life. However with the advent of better medications and a greater understanding of the disease, I have become committed to the mobilization of the African American church around issues of HIV/AIDS stigma, discrimination and heterosexism.

My life is guided by the principle of Ubuntu, which in part means, "I am what I am because of who we all are." Archbishop Desmond Tutu provides a more detailed definition of this principle in his book No Future Without Forgiveness.  He says, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”  

There is no single cause that explains why African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, although there are a number of overlapping factors that occur related to a complex set of social determinants of health.  Poverty, stigma, lack of access to healthcare, and unemployment are all an integral part of tackling the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on African Americans. Noted physician, Dr. Mindy Fullilove, MD, has suggested that the following occurs in the face of such upheaval:

  • Fracturing of social bonds
  • Loss of political, social and cultural capital
  • Loss of competitive advantage as compared to other group
  • Decreased ability to solve new problems

I believe that it is vitally important that African Americans engage in community mobilization to counter the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our communities. Preventing HIV/AIDS requires commitment and engagement of the whole community. Efforts that engage isolated sub-groups or implement sporadic activities have limited impact, because we need to build enough support that the whole community works through the process of change. Success in preventing HIV/AIDS depends on reaching and engaging a broad group of men, women and youth at the individual, community and societal levels. 

Since people live in community with others, the whole community needs to be engaged for community-wide change to occur.

Effective strategies aimed at changing harmful beliefs and practices in a community must engage and be lead by members of that community.  Organizations can facilitate change, yet change must occur within the community members themselves. Organizations can work closely with individuals, groups, and institutions to strengthen their capacity to be agents of change in their community.

I am participating in Taking Action for Health, Dignity and Justice: The Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV because faith leaders are increasingly playing a critical role in HIV/AIDS prevention, education and support. I acknowledge the essential need for organizational and individual capacity building within African-American communities and the inherent value of community mobilization to effectively respond to the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic, by empowering the centers of ministry, namely, local congregations. At its core such efforts should engage all sectors of the population in a community-wide effort to address HIV/AIDS. It should bring together policy makers, government entities, faith communities, businesses and individual community members and empowers these constituencies to take action to facilitate change to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
 

Sharon Groves, Director of HRC's Religion & Faith program, will also participate in today's Faith & AIDS Pre-Conference. Learn more about HRC's involvement in the 19th International AIDS Conference at hrc.org/aids2012.

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