What is the focus of your own HIV/AIDS advocacy work?
Our focus at the Balm in Gilead is spreading the word about HIV in the faith community. We're the only national organization that focuses primarily on the church. We find barriers and support in the same place -- it's a double-edged sword. Some churches embrace us. But we find barriers in the areas of attitudes toward homosexuality and drugs.
What is the most critical AIDS issue facing the African-American community?
Awareness of the disease.
Where is the most progress being made in combating the epidemic in the black community? Where is the least progress?
A great deal of progress is being made within the faith community. The least progress is being made with the homeless and the mentally challenged.
What are the top myths about HIV you encounter in the African-American community?
The top myth is that HIV is a punishment from God.
What is the source of that myth?
From people who don't have a working knowledge of the disease. I'm not gonna give them a negative label. They don't have the knowledge, so it comes out of fear.
What is the best way to address it?
How is the HIV epidemic different in the black community than the white or Latino community?
The virus is impacting the black community three times as much as the white community. In the Latino community, it also has a greater impact than in the white community. It comes from a lack of information -- because it's not in the forefront of the press, people have the attitude, "Oh, that must be gone. Is that still around?" Then you have cultural issues that get in the way. The discussion around sex is not comfortable for many, especially within the faith community. And if you're gonna discuss HIV and AIDS, you're gonna have to discuss sex.
Do you think activism is an effective way to fight the epidemic?
Yes, because it gets attention, and we need to give attention to the disease.
Do you think too much has been made of the "down low"? Explain why.
Yeah, cause it's been around forever -- it's not something new. People have been in the closet since day one.
How can we help African Americans get tested earlier and therefore get better results from HIV treatment?
By giving them additional information through nontraditional ways. That's being done through the church, beauty shops and barbershops. I think that's the way to go.
What are your hopes and fears for the next generation of African Americans as they face the risks of HIV?
That a vaccine would be found. That every church, no matter what denomination or belief system, would be educated about the virus. With education, you can move to prevention.
Can you recommend one action everyone can take to end the epidemic?
Not doing anything that would put themselves at risk for infection -- unprotected sex, drugs, alcohol.