I happen to be part of a generation that came up in San Francisco at an important time in the world. We saw ourselves as part of a community with a commitment to ideas that would change the world. That resonated with me as a child and as a young student. I spent six years doing community development work in San Francisco. Those kinds of things you don't dismiss or put aside.
That history drives all of my activism. And it's certainly what drives my AIDS activism. When people hear about AIDS, a lot of them think of Africa. After all, the media has inundated us with photographs and stories of AIDS orphans, mother to child transmission, the lack of access to drugs, the disproportionate number of persons infected by the HIV virus, and so on. All of this is true and we should continue to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa, yet we need to realize that the AIDS epidemic is not over in America, and it is especially not over in Black America.
AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 24 and 34 and continues to be a leading cause of death for Black men of all ages. Why aren't we alarmed? Why isn't the media reporting this and getting the word out so that we can protect ourselves?
People here and around the world think, based on what they hear from our government and the media, that the incidence of HIV and AIDS is considerably lower now than it was in the 1980s. That is true. But lowering HIV incidence and prevalence in some communities is not the same as ending the epidemic in all communities. Nearly half of the estimated 1.2 million people living with AIDS in America today are Black. Fifty-four percent of the new HIV infections in the United States are in Black communities. Yet, the silence is deafening.
We've got to work on the stigma. We cannot allow so-called "traditional values" to allow large segments of our communities to be marginalized. If we want to end the AIDS pandemic, either at home or abroad, we have to confront intolerance wherever we find it. If you open your heart, you open your mind. If you open your mind, you also open your heart.
I remember the day that my brother told me that he had AIDS. I was scared and angry. I was even speechless because I didn't know how I could comfort him. Although I had already lost countless friends to AIDS since the 1980s, there was nothing that could have prepared me to hear those words come out of his mouth.
My brother is not gay. I say that not because that would matter to me, but because in our community, we think AIDS is only a gay issue. This misperception has undermined our ability to adequately confront the disease in our communities. Black churches and traditional Black institutions stayed away from even talking about AIDS in the beginning. As a result, it spread like wildfire in our neighborhoods because of drug use, the lack of awareness, insufficient prevention efforts and an absence of any mass Black mobilization. Today, AIDS in America is a Black disease, and everyone of us has been touched by it in some way. Even though it is a hard subject to bring up with family and friends, we need to talk about it with our children and with each other.
A lot of my AIDS work was born out of my work in Africa. The African AIDS pandemic is really a part of the larger systemic social and economic problems facing the planet. In some ways, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is showing us the ultimate result of sustained systemic poverty. If you don't have enough hospitals, you can't treat the numbers of people who come to you. If you don't have enough medical supplies or needles, you will use needles multiple times, increasing the probability of HIV transmission. If the AIDS medications are not made in-country or the prices reduced to make them affordable, the cycle can only get worse.
Many Africans get that, and are taking action. One of the things we've sought to do with the UN campaigns I've worked on is to demonstrate what Africans are doing about the AIDS crisis. They are not sitting idly by. Whether at the local village level or as a part of the national plans, there are countless stories of Africans using whatever they have to fight this disease and to save themselves.
But where are our leaders in the United States? Where are our educators? Where are our ministers? We have to take control of our own lives, our own bodies. And we have to fight this pandemic from all sides. We have to get involved for ourselves and our children. That is why I'm involved and why I will be involved until the AIDS pandemic is over. If my visibility as an actor creates a kind of space where these kinds of discussions can be out on the table and other people can be part of that dialogue, so be it. That's what I'll lend my name to.
Danny Glover is an actor and activist in Los Angeles.