August 2, 2007
On Sunday at Buffalo's predominantly black True Bethel Baptist Church, more than 700 worshippers watched as eight prominent local women stood at the lectern and took oral HIV tests. The event was part of the "Breakthrough Sundays" campaign in which local faith community leaders are asked to help encourage their members to get tested.
The eight women -- seven African Americans and one Hispanic -- were Assembly member Crystal Peoples (D-Buffalo), University Council member Bonnie E. Russell, New York Supreme Court Justice Rose Sconiers, Buffalo City Judge E. Jeannette Ogden, Buffalo City Judge Betty Calvo-Torres, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant (D-Buffalo), Community Health Center of Buffalo Executive Director LaVonne Ansari, and Inclusion Development Associates CEO Rhonda A. Ricks.
State Health Department statistics show that in the eight-county Western New York region, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 57.4 percent of AIDS cases in 2005. Blacks make up 36.6 percent of Buffalo's population but 53.9 percent of its AIDS cases.
The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen directed his Sunday sermon at the young women in the congregation. "These girls are faced with the pressures of sex, and we want to ensure that they make the right choices," he said. "It doesn't matter how good he looks or how smooth talking he is, he could be infected with HIV or AIDS."
Pridgen made national headlines in 2002 at the first "Breakthrough Sunday" event when he took an HIV test in the pulpit. After church, some 105 others followed his example and were tested. This past Sunday, dozens of members took the opportunity to undergo anonymous testing.