February 14, 2012
One in a weekly series about the Black AIDS Institute's Greater Than AIDS ambassadors, who are using their VIP status in Black America to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and HIV testing and treatment.
After the swift cancellation of The Playboy Club last fall, singer and actress Naturi Naughton -- who played Black bunny Brenda in the series -- is returning to television in April on Lifetime's The Client List. In the series, which is based on a true story, she plays Kendra, a masseuse at the Rub, a popular "massage parlor" owned by a Texas housewife-turned-hooker. That role is being reprised by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who also starred in the TV movie of the same name.
But as provocative as her recent television roles have been, the 27-year-old finds knowledge and protection far more alluring.
What prompted you to become a part of this movement?
I've been a part of this since last year, when I first did a PSA for the Black AIDS Institute. I was really moved by what I learned because I didn't realize how many people were affected, especially in my community, by HIV/AIDS. Knowing how the campaign can bring awareness among young people and young women -- and being a young African American woman -- I realized this could be me. And if I don't care, who will?
Have you known of someone affected by HIV/AIDS?
I haven't known anyone personally. But I have a friend who lost a very good friend to AIDS, and it really made me realize that it's hitting closer to home than one might think. It made me want to be more aware of getting tested, using protection -- all the things we sometimes take for granted. We can't take those things for granted.
When did you first decide to get tested?
My deciding moment to get tested was when I was in college. I was in my freshman year at Seton Hall University, and I was growing up and becoming a woman, realizing how to really take care of myself. And this is one of the things, as women, we have to do. I decided that I wasn't going to take any risks. I didn't want to be in doubt, and I didn't want to live without knowing my status. Those are the moments when you have to take control of your life, because I want to live.
But it's such a difficult topic to discuss in the Black community. Why?
So many people still believe it's taboo to talk about it -- that it's a disease that only affects people who have a certain type of a lifestyle or that you've done something wrong. There are all these stigmas and negative connotations that go along with it. But instead of being afraid to talk about it, we should embrace that it's here, and know that we can hinder the spread of it if we pay attention. If we're oblivious and not cognizant of the facts, we could completely lose the next generation. It's better to talk about it than not.
How do you get people talking?
The way to start is by giving people the facts, letting them know that this is something that a cousin, a sister, a brother, a mother, can be affected by and can die from. Once the community realizes how severely the epidemic is affecting our inner circles, I think that's how you make them realize that they can do what is necessary to stop this virus from spreading.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker.