Imagine that you are 23 times more likely than the woman standing next to you to have AIDS in your lifetime. She happens to be White. And you're Black. And if you're a man, the odds are only slightly less bad, with eight times the chance. That's the reality in the United States and it's becoming very real in King County, too.
This news does not make the headlines, but it's a grim storyline for our community. It plagues our residents who already face a variety of health disparities. And even with the best efforts of researchers and strapped community groups to change this dreadful pattern, we haven't stopped the new infections from continuing at disproportionate rates.
Feb. 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day, but we're not here to reflect. Black Americans represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for half of AIDS cases diagnosed in 2006. In King County we are 6 percent of the population and 22 percent of newly diagnosed HIV cases.
To have meaning, Feb. 7 must be a rallying point, a renewal of our working commitment together to end this modern plague.
One King County group is determined to make sure our city moves for change at a faster pace than these national statistics. The Black Leadership Council on HIV is a coalition formed to address the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on King County. Through education and outreach, the group works to ensure Seattle is a supportive to the African American community for HIV testing, leadership, care and treatment.
Members are also committed to dispelling myths about HIV testing and research with a collective goal of changing the Black history around this epidemic.
Today there are over one million HIV-positive individuals living in the United States — the largest number ever. One out of every four persons does not know he or she is infected, suffering from a lack of treatment and maybe unknowingly spreading the virus. These numbers will continue to grow unless everyone – including the Black community — takes decisive action against the disease.
Invoke the spirit of Rosa Parks who said, "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear." Get tested for HIV now, to overcome fear of knowing and continue making decisions that protect you and your and loved ones from HIV infection.
If you are already infected, invoke the spirit of Magic Johnson who said tell "at once that they have HIV if they test positive, because we have 26 drugs to help you." Members of the BLC have joined Dr. Maxine Hayes of the Washington State Department of Health in a call to all to "Know Your Numbers!!! Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and HIV status." For as Maya Angelou says, "when we know better we do better."
The BLC is committed to providing the facts behind the myths, promoting condom use and other safer sex practices, ensuring folks are not sharing needles, and assuring they are getting help for drug problems.
It will take many dreamers who turn their dreams into visions and strategies for change to lead a response that will stop the HIV epidemic. Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008 is a day for more than rhetoric, to bring the dreamers together. We sound the alarm today and call on you to make history and a new reality, where HIV stands for no color in our community.
Additional information on the BLC at http://www.metrokc.gov/ health/apu/blc
Steven Wakefield is director of The Legacy Project & George W. Counts, Md.