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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

I Am an Endangered Species

November 8, 2007

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Sheryl Lee Ralph is an actress and a singer. She's also a longtime HIV activist. On November 8, 2007, she delivered a moving and powerful talk to an audience of advocates and activists at a plenary luncheon on the HIV crisis in the African-American community at the 11th annual United States Conference on AIDS.

[Ms. Ralph sings]

I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I'm a woman. I'm an artist. I know where my voice belongs.

I am sorry. And I am saddened to tears that there are so many of you here, because I've been coming here a long time, and your numbers have increased year after year after year, which says to me, out loud and visibly, the word is not being heard. That what we have done in the past, what we have done before this moment, is not working!

I cannot stand here and rehash for you anything that I have said before, because I can tell you, as one who has taken the past two years to get out into America, parts of America that some of you don't even know exist, I can tell you from the front line, racism is alive. I can tell you from the front line, sexism is alive. I can tell you from the front line, homophobia is very real and alive. And I can tell you, what wraps them all up together in a great big bow is hatred. And until you are able to get real and deal with all of that, HIV and AIDS ain't goin' nowhere.

Why is it, with the rate of HIV infection in women of color -- pick a color, any color -- why is it that we don't have more money? Why is it we don't have more money to help these women of color? That's right. That's right. You go run tell that! That's right. You sit there and you get uncomfortable about that!

It is ugly out there. Sometimes, I think, why aren't folks getting the message? Well, because some folks, who hold the purse strings, don't speak the same language. They don't know them. They don't understand them. They don't get it. It's ugly. It's hard. But don't tell me that you are trying. Try harder. Try differently. But, God, do something different!

Don't come to another convention and go shopping. And don't let my good looks fool you. Don't come here and not meet somebody who doesn't look like you, speak like you, come from your community. Because as my good white girlfriend said to me, "I'm happy that black folks are finally speaking up, and getting the help they deserve and need, when it comes to this disease. Because you see, when I go to the clinic to get my meds," -- What's she going to say? -- "When I go to the clinic to get my meds, nobody's tracking me. Nobody from the government is asking me my information. No, nobody is collecting my numbers. Because I can afford not to be tracked." My good white girlfriend said to me, "And you know what? It's too bad, because black women are not alone. Your numbers are greater because they track you harder."

It's uncomfortable, people. It ain't pretty, people. She went on to say, "And the fact is that there are two white men who, if they were to expose their status today, would change the way we view this disease tomorrow."

Sexism, racism, hatred. It's alive and living. And until you get uncomfortable with it, until each and every one of you decides to do something real different and deal with it, HIV and AIDS ain't goin' nowhere.

I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I'm a woman. I'm an artist. I know where my voice belongs.

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