April 20, 2009
Activists and advocates offered a range of reactions to the "Act Against AIDS" (AAA) effort unveiled at the White House on April 7. Components of the outreach include a media campaign ("Nine and a Half Minutes"), a leadership initiative with 14 key African-American organizations, and a partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation to build support in the media and entertainment industries.
"For those of us who have been living and working with HIV a long time, this is a cause to shout hallelujah," said veteran activist Jesse Milan. "I'm thrilled to be able to celebrate a president who cares about the epidemic at home." AAA, he said, "will not be afraid to address black youth and black gay and bisexual men."
Carl Schmid of the AIDS Institute, noting that the Obama administration is less than 100 days old, called the early announcement of a renewed focus on the domestic AIDS epidemic "a good start."
"This is an important beginning and an important evidence of commitment," said Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and a consultant on HIV in the black community.
"I'm particularly moved by the fact that this campaign is comprehensive and it really follows the data," said Phill Wilson, head of the Black AIDS Institute. "We need to start where the epidemic is worse, which is in the African-American community."
National Black Justice Coalition Director Alexander Robinson raised some issues of concern with AAA. "All of these African-American groups, none of them have any capacity to deal with gay men," he said. "While I appreciated their historic contribution to all African Americans, they have not demonstrated a willingness or capacity to seriously address not only HIV but any of the challenges that face the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community."
"We hope that there will be more visible involvement of black gay men in this effort," said Ronald Johnson, deputy director of AIDS Action. "I remain optimistic that will be addressed as we go forward. We didn't quite see it here today in terms of the national partners in the African-American community." Even so, Johnson said AAA "represents the real and genuine commitment of this administration to reverse the neglect of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic."
For more on AAA, visit www.nineandahalfminutes.org and www.cdc.gov/hiv/aaa.