July 23, 2010
The conference is starting to wind down. From a personal and environmental perspective, you can feel the air slowly 'leaving the balloon.' The palpable energy level has dropped appreciably. Many of us are just overloaded. There is so much information being disseminated, as well as events, press conferences, and activities, many occurring concurrently, that it is physically impossible to attend but a fraction of it.
One of my greatest regrets is that I haven't had an opportunity to have any substantive conversations with my brothers and sisters from other countries. There has just been so little time. I have had the opportunity to speak with a couple of the gentlemen in my traveling party who work for organizations that have similar programs to my own. I have found those conversations to be enlightening and helpful.
I had the opportunity to attend 'The Other City,' Sheila Johnson's independent film about HIV in Washington D.C. Suffice to say, because I don't want to spoil the movie, it is well worth seeing and I am going to work hard to bring it to the Philadelphia area. After the movie, we have a brief discussion period which included some convention delegates from Africa and Haiti. While it certainly wasn't the first time I heard it, they remarked at how surprised they were that HIV was a problem in the United States. Their perception of the U.S. is that we are wealthy and that the HIV epidemic is under control here. The real irony here is that most Americans, including many black Americans, feel the same way.
I can't keep track of the number of conversations I have had with American black folks who have told me that they didn't think that HIV was a problem because they hardly hear about it. While I acknowledge that there is not enough HIV reporting, there is plenty of information available for those who seek it. So therein lies the problem, why don't we want to know. Clearly, some of us don't believe that we are at risk. Others still hold on to the myths (that it's a gay disease) and conspiracy theories (that there is an actual cure). Still others find it depressing and feel that they already have enough to deal with.
So what do we do? How do we get black folks' attention, especially with the next International HIV Conference in Washington D.C., looming? Think about it: What message do we want to take to that conference? Will it be that we are still dragging our feet and HIV in the U.S. has worsened? Or will we begin to live up to the hype, the international image that we have HIV better managed and might actually be in a position to show other folks how to do it?
I ran into actress Sheryl Lee Ralph here. She suggested a million person march on HIV. Hmmm, not a bad idea. Volunteers?