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.
KTLA's popular Los Angeles morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira, doesn't remember a singular incident that prompted her to get tested for HIV/AIDS, but her frequent bouts of "newscasteritis" have kept the issue top of mind.
What is "newscasteritis"?
Whether it's a tree falling on someone's car or a rare disease someone gets, I always consider what that would have been like in my life, and it's made me think of things in a very different light. When we give the latest statistics on HIV/AIDS transmission, talk about the new numbers being found in America or the new infection rates among African American women, I pay attention. I can't say I don't know, because I'm telling people.
Since you already have a platform to tell people what's happening, what prompted you to get involved in the Greater Than AIDS campaign?
Because of what I do, the welcome mat is often opened to me, and I take advantage of that to stand up and say something important instead of hearing the sound of my own voice.
It's easy enough for you to talk about HIV/AIDS -- that's what you do -- but yet it's so difficult for people within our community to talk about it. Why?
I wish I knew: Is it shame? Is it anger? Is it denial? Is it frustration? Is it the fact that in our community, we feel as though we aren't heard? I don't know. I've asked myself that, and I've talked about it with my friends. I don't think any of us fully understand. All I know is I spend time thinking about that, and then I push that aside and think about what we can do.
What can we do?
Talk about it. I remember, post-9/11, I was in the back of a cab and the taxi driver and I were both still kind of reeling from what had just happened in New York and at the Pentagon, and we talked about it. He was a Muslim American and I am a Christian Canadian, and we're on very different sides of the world if one wants to look at division. But we talked. And it was one of the most compelling, impactful conversations I've had because it was difficult.
How can we make this difficult conversation easier?
If it's just a casual conversation, that's somewhere to start; and maybe that conversation is overheard by someone else who writes a blog about it that's read by someone halfway across the country who writes a letter. It's like a virus, but a good virus.
And like a virus, that can start with one person ...
It starts with me. If one person makes a change in their life, think of all the people around them that it will then affect. Because the opposite is also true: If one person doesn't make a change, think of all of the people who can be infected around them. So the reverse can be very powerful.
What does it mean to you to be "Greater Than AIDS"?
"Greater Than" is such an excellent tagline. I remember learning about those greater-than and less-than symbols in elementary school and thinking, "That is really amazing!" It was comparative, and I remember how impactful that was to me as a child. The fact is that, however symbolic, it is a powerful statement. It goes back to that one person. It feels a bit like David versus Goliath. But I back David every time.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker.