That's What Friends Are For!
By Rae Lewis-Thornton
September 27, 2011
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
Monday with my IV medication in tote, I made my way to New York to participate in the Dionne Warwick That's What Friends Are For Town Hall Meeting. I was honored to have been asked to be a panelist. But I was most impressed that Ms. Warwick decided to celebrate 50 years in entertainment hosting a town hall meeting focusing on HIV/AIDS.
I was double impressed that the Town Hall Meeting was hosted at Harlem United, a full service agency focusing on the mind, body and spirit for people living with HIV/AIDS. Think about it, Ms. Warwick could have done anything, anywhere, but she chose to focus on a health and social issue affecting African-Americans and she did it in its epic center.
There was an esteemed panel of experts around HIV/AIDS, Jacoby Johnson, Soraya Elcock, Rev. Kevin Taylor, Dr. L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, along with Tony Nominated, AIDS Activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, Former Manhattan Borough President, C, Virginia Fields and BET's Ed Gordon was the moderator.
I could tell you all about it, but instead I'll let you watch part one of the video of the Town Hall Meeting to get a tone of the evening that did not sugar coat one thing. Part Two is coming soon. The only disappointment for me was that the auditorium was not packed and NO mainstream media thought it important enough to cover.
I learned a lot about Ms. Warwick on Monday. She was the United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United States Ambassador of Health.
Ms. Warwick traveled the world bringing attention to important health issues, as she puts it on, "Her dime." She was appointed during the Reagan years and it lasted through the first year of Clinton's administration.
It is no secret that the early days of the AIDS epidemic were scary and President Reagan's refusal to mention the word AIDS out of his mouth did not make it easy. Ms. Warwick recanted a piece of history that I never knew and proud to learn. President Reagan was recognizing her work at the Washington Press Club and as he spoke of her good works, she asked, "And what am I working on Mr. President, and with reluctance he mumbled, "AIDS." It's interesting that the media only recounts the official interview where Reagan mentions the word AIDS for the "first time."
Nonetheless, Ms. Warwick has been a giant in the advocacy of HIV/AIDS since the very beginning. No one will ever forgot her pulling together a group of friends to record the song, That's What Friends Are For that raise 3 million dollars for HIV.
Ms. Warwick, reinforced her commitment to HIV/AIDS on Monday night. And she was loud and clear. While former President Bill Clinton has done great work on AIDS in Africa, she is going to challenge him to expand his work to AIDS in the United States, where African-Americans are hit the hardest. Make no mistakes, AIDS in the African-American community is comparable to some Sub-Saharan counties.
I commend Ms. Warwick for her continued work around HIV/AIDS. Listening to the panelists and the audience, Ms. Warwick said that, "She had learned a lot." This town hall meeting was a renewal of sorts for her efforts; And believe that she will not only challenge Bill Clinton to focus more on HIV/AIDS in America, I believe that she will challenge all Americans to do better and in doing so, it will remind those impacted with HIV/AIDS that we are not alone in the struggle because that's what friends are for.
Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
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