September 21, 2011
The Black AIDS Institute, in collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Health, will present the second annual Greater Than AIDS tour this week. The tour will be making three stops.
The first stop will be at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Thursday, Sept. 22. The second will be at the West Memphis Neighborhood Center on Friday, Sept. 23. The last stop will be at Bramble Park in Texarkana on Saturday, Sept. 24. Every stop of the tour will feature Greater Than AIDS Ambassador Chauncey Beaty and AIDS activist Carl Jackson. There will be free food, giveaways, HIV testing and lifesaving information available.
The Greater Than AIDS campaign is an empowerment movement to help African Americans conquer the epidemic by knowing their status and the facts about HIV/AIDS. The movement uses media campaigns and community events to increase awareness and decrease stigma. It targets areas around the country that have been the most heavily affected by the disease.
Rochelle McFerguson, director of the Student Health Clinic at the University of Central Arkansas, says that lack of knowledge and misinformation are obstacles in the battle against AIDS among young people. "Students find themselves in situations where they may be affected by drugs or alcohol or a combination of both," she says. "So they may be in a situation where they are not able to protect themselves. When you drink or do drugs, your inhibitions are lowered and you make decisions that you wouldn't ordinarily make if you hadn't been drinking. "
So far, in 2011, Arkansas has a total of 129 reported HIV cases statewide, according to the Arkansas Department of Health's Quarterly Report. Nearly three-quarters of those cases are among African Americans. This figure is actually a decrease from the 2008 figures, which reported a spike of HIV cases at 314.
Ermer Pondexter, director of the Retired and Senior Program in Texarkana, says that more still needs to be done. "The system can fight HIV/AIDS, but until the general public is cognizant of the situation -- and that is through education -- the fight is in vain," Pondexter says. "The system is broken because there is not an awareness of HIV/AIDS education in the community to the degree that it targets the population for which it is intended." Arkansas is a prime battleground for fighting the epidemic, especially among African Americans. The rates are low, and we can keep them there with the right effort.
Beaty, an award-winning poet and activist who is one of the tour's guest speakers, says that self-love is a key component to protection and preservation. "We are in the information age, and people have access to information. There's a gap in that people are not acting in a way that can prevent the disease. I believe that gap is self-love and self-value. We are so out of alignment with self-love that we make decisions that are unhealthy," says the two-time Women of the World Poetry Slam finalist. "The message that I'm trying to get across is to love your life, love yourself and love your dreams enough to protect yourself."
Fight stigma. Raise awareness. Educate others. This is how Arkansas can remain Greater Than AIDS. For more information about the tour, call 877-757-AIDS or email programs@BlackAIDS.org.
Candace Y.A. Montague is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She covers AIDS news for the Examiner.com/dc and The Body.com.