Talk about grabbing headlines. When actress Regina King wanted to encourage more people to get tested for HIV, she decided to do something that most Hollywood actresses would run away from as if trying to escape a monster in a horror flick: She underwent a public HIV screening. In 2007 King -- a star of such seminal films as Poetic Justice, Jerry Maguire, Enemy of the State and Ray -- joined other Black celebrities, such as Sheryl Lee Ralph, Rockmond Dunbar and Henry Simmons, to get checked for HIV as part of the Black AIDS Institute's Test 1 Million campaign. The campaign's goal is to have one million Black Americans screened for HIV by 2010 to increase awareness about the need to be proactive.
For this private star, that brave act of public exposure aptly demonstrated how strongly she feels about this issue. King, who can be seen weekly on TNT as a star of the critically acclaimed cop show Southland, told blackaids.org that she is anxious to find any way possible to reach more young people with the message, Get tested now.
What made you become involved in the fight against AIDS?
The obvious reasons -- the way it's affected our community more than anyone else's. We just have to educate. The more people that are involved -- the more people are talking about it, putting the right information out there -- the more I think our numbers will start to decrease.
How has the disease personally touched your life?
One of my close friends has been living with HIV for 17 years. A lot of my education regarding it early on came from him living and learning through it. It's definitely showed me it's not a death sentence. Initially that's how most people regarded HIV: as an immediate death sentence. I think that alone makes a lot of people apprehensive about testing.
When you signed on to support the Test 1 Million campaign, you were adamant that you wanted to have your results revealed publicly. Why did you think it was important to take such a proactive and unusual stance?
I hope that people seeing that I was strong enough or bold enough to have my results broadcasted, so to speak, would encourage or inspire people to take the test silently. It doesn't have to be something everyone has to know about, but you should know your own HIV status. I thought my celebrity could encourage someone else to be responsible about their life -- and, if they are sexually active, other people's lives.
Are there still things that surprise you about how HIV and AIDS are affecting the African American community?
The numbers are always surprising, that they continue to rise. I'm surprised how many people are not interested in knowing their status. And so many people are not making sure they know their partner's status. Too many of us can lay down and have sex with a person and know we're okay, we've been tested and test ourselves regularly, but we don't make sure we find out that information about the person we're with. We're still having a lot of casual sex. That's amazing to me. It doesn't make any sense to go through all that you're supposed to do to keep yourself safe and not demand that of someone else. If you love yourself and love the other person enough, make it something you guys do as a date: "Let's go get our test."
Do you have the opportunity to talk to young Black girls about this issue?
I try to speak at high schools, try to make them have girls-only assemblies so I can get female time. There are things that I think are important for young girls that they aren't aware of. A lot of girls can have sex but believe masturbation is taboo. But they think premarital sex isn't. I can't get my mind around that.
Nick Chiles is a prize-winning journalist and author who lives in Georgia. Read more about him at chilmill.com.