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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

HIV, Plantations and the Holy Ones

March 7, 2014

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I learned what our enslaved ancestors harvested was communal anguish, with bowed over backs suffering the lash and emasculated men, as their womenfolk were forcibly and resignedly raped. A lot of what our ancestors gleaned from the fields and the big house they spent their life blood in was a little something extra than we usually talk about when we talk around plantation life. That little something was disease. Sexually transmitted diseases. Particularly, syphilis and gonorrhea.

If you ever want to hear about what one particular "owner" was giving to the enslaved persons on his plantation, Google the name: Thomas Thistlewood from London, England. He documented every single day and every single sexual encounter he had with the enslaved on his plantations on the islands.

The untreated long-term effects of these diseases were documented as well. They were horrendous, and debilitating.

Sadly, condoms were not available.


And let's not forget the pregnancies. Some of us were sold, simply for breeding purposes. We didn't have a choice or a voice in the matter of what was done to our bodies on the plantation.

But what they didn't understand, was that we were a holy people. Even then, our bodies were holy. Even as we bore the lash, even as we bore disease, even as we bore the wrath of those who enslaved us, even as we bore children to those who took us against our will. Our bodies have always been holy. Because our bodies were built in the image of God. Amen?

Our ancestors on the plantations were Holy simply because of what they had to go through, what they endured. We were a diverse people on the plantations we were categorized as Negroes and mulattos, quadroons and octoroons, to name a few. And even though many of us died from neglect, from murder, from disease, we have survived. We are a people unmatched by few. Civilization began with us. We are descended from a royal line, all related by our homeland. We were taken and scattered throughout the earth.

Unprotected and unaccounted for. We are still here, because we are resilient.

We still survive. We still overcome.

It is time for us to protect ourselves brothers and sisters.

And no, I am not talking about revenge, not talking about "an eye for an eye," not talking about taking up arms against those who have oppressed us or are still systematically oppressing us. It is really time to turn the other cheek and stop focusing on who is doing what/and who has done what to us.

I'm talking about keeping the focus on ourselves and building ourselves back up to who we are. I'm talking about doing what our ancestors, who paved the way for us, were not equipped to do during their lifetime. What was not possible back on the plantation was the ability to think and do for themselves without the threat of punishment.

What our ancestors were not able to do for themselves was to protect themselves from disease, unless they were skilled in homeopathic remedies and even those were not able to cure everything. Especially syphilis or gonorrhea.

Beloved. We can protect ourselves today. We can educate one another today. We can empower each other today and empowering each other is what I see All People's Church stepping up and doing.

You have a voice and a choice today. You also have faith leaders who are concerned about not only the spiritual growth of their congregation, but the physical health as well. And not only the health of their congregation, but of the surrounding community outside these walls. It's not an easy task, for certainly when you begin addressing the sexual health of your congregation, the sexual health of your community, there's bound to be some who will be cracking the whip and banging you in the head with their Bibles.

Thank god for Pastor Jerbi, who took the initiative to get tested in front of you and Elijah, who did the same, and for those of you who were tested as well ... it all begins inside these walls. It begins with the faith leaders being a model and inviting others to come forward as well. While Pastor Jerbi modeled the game: "follow the leader" You can be assured that HIV is not a game. Being tested is not a game. It is about your life.

It is about faith leaders addressing the needs of the community. A big need is doing what is needed to get the community engaged in HIV testing. It's about coming in out of the plantation, sitting down and taking about what needs to be done, instead of placing our focus on issues that don't really concern us. I don't care who you are sleeping with. (Well, let me take that back. I do care if your partner is beating and abusing you ... I do care if the relationship is one that can land you in jail ... I do care if it is not a healthy loving relationship. How about we model what "love" really means?)

But I digress. We are talking about Black history month and HIV testing and the faith communities response toward healthier communities. It should be more than lip service and pontificating. It is about modeling for our teens and young adults and not only our young adults, but some of our senior citizens as well. They are another statistically growing concern when it comes to HIV, especially with the advent of the little blue pill -- that Viagra.

EVERYONE needs to be aware, EVERYONE needs to know how to be healthy and stay healthy ... check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

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This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More Personal Accounts on African Americans and HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Ben at the Body (Chicago) Tue., Mar. 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm UTC
I never miss a "Finding Your Roots" Henry Louis Gates program, and the more African the roots, the more interesting the family tree!
Condi Rice made a really good point when they did her: we never talk about the ACTUAL goings-on of slavery. You touched upon it here: rape.
It's just like HIV: if we can't discuss it openly, it remains an item of shame.
Congrats on the fruits of your research!
Reply to this comment
Replies to this comment:
Comment by: andrena (philadelphia) Sun., Mar. 23, 2014 at 3:44 am UTC
thank you!...not only rape, but the spread of STD's and our ancestors not having the mean to protect themselves...We have the power to protect ourselves today!

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Is the Ribbon Enough?

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.

Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.

Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.

Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.

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