April 19, 2010
For a few days in late April, the Buckeye state will become Black Hollywood East, as movie and TV stars flock to participate in the Test 1 Million Ohio Celebrity Tour.
From April 21 to April 24, 2010, celebrities Danny Glover ("Death at a Funeral" and the Lethal Weapon series), Rockmond Dunbar ("Prison Break" and "The Family that Preys"), Lamman Rucker ("Meet the Browns" and "Why Did I Get Married Too?"), Vanessa Williams (Showtime's "Soul Food") and Sheryl Lee Ralph (original Broadway "Dreamgirls" and Tony Award nominee) will visit Dayton, Oxford, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio, to fight AIDS stigma, raise awareness about the magnitude of HIV/AIDS in Black communities, and encourage people to get tested for HIV.
"There has never been an effort to mobilize the Black community in Ohio like this," says Mamie Harris, CEO and founder of IV Charis, a Cincinnati- and Northern Kentucky-based AIDS-service organization and the event co-sponsor. Other tour supporters include the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, Orasure Technologies and a statewide coalition of 27 organizations. "We hope that combining the efforts of local organizations, including colleges and universities, churches, elected officials and health departments, with a mobile 'billboard' featuring Hollywood celebrities that will travel from Detroit to Cincinnati and then across the state of Ohio will get people's attention," says Harris.
"Rockmond Dunbar and Lamman Rucker are two of the hottest young actors in Hollywood, and to have them participate is spectacular. Danny Glover is an acting legend and a leading human rights activist. He has traveled the world and seen the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS first hand. In addition, having a brother living with HIV, Danny knows how HIV impacts Black Families. So when he speaks about the disease, it carries a lot of weight," says Phill Wilson, President and CEO of event co-sponsor the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. "We are also lucky to have actress Vanessa Williams and Sheryl Lee Ralph, both Black AIDS Institute board members, on the tour to share their voice and knowledge."
Part of the Greater Than AIDS/Test 1 Million campaign, a national media and mobilization initiative managed by the Black AIDS Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Ohio tour will call Black leaders to action and engage Black individuals and institutions in a community-wide effort to end the AIDS epidemic.
"The tour started off as a pilot project in Cincinnati but expanded across the state," explains Liz Presley-Fields, project director of EPIP, Central Community Health Board. "All of these events are organized by local Test 1 Million Ohio partners. IV Charis enhanced them and put the tour together. Things get stale when people hear the same statistics and messages over and over. The tour will refresh and reinforce the importance of HIV testing in the Black community," she adds.
Kim Glenn, President of the Cincinnati Queen City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., agrees. "Partnering with IV Charis, the Ohio Minority Health Commission, Orasure Technologies, MAC AIDS fund and the other organizations involved in the Ohio tour is exactly the kind of synergy that is needed to keep the fight against this devastating disease in the forefront of concern in the Black community where it needs to be," she says.
"The messenger matters. The biggest hurdle in our community regarding HIV/AIDS is mistrust; we don't believe the statistics because we don't trust the messenger," says Harris. "But if the messenger is from our community, our people will take it more seriously".
The tour kicks off on Wednesday, April 21st, at HBCUs Central State and Wilberforce Universities and features a rally, a celebrity speaker, spoken-word performances and a step teaser by fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. On Thursday April 22nd, the tour stops at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where representatives of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., will host a Q&A and issue a call to action.
In Cleveland on Friday, April 23rd, the department of health will partner with Radio One station 107.9 WENZ-FM to host the theatrical HIV/AIDS and STD-awareness play "Secrets," performed by students from the Cleveland School of the Arts. Ms. Ohio, Ashley Miller, will make an appearance and speak to the youth participants.
The last day of the tour sees events in two cities. On Saturday morning April 24th, Cincinnati's Queen City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta will host its 4th annual walk. That afternoon the African Heritage Festival will be held at Ohio State University. HIV testing will be available at all tour events.
"We are looking for big turn outs at all of the stops on the tour," Harris says.
The Test 1 Million Celebrity tour is funded in part by the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, Orasure Technologies, the MAC AIDS fund, the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, Gilead Sciences, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Black AIDS Institute.
Marc Alexander is a writer and TV producer living in Los Angeles.