Black AIDS Institute and the AIDS 2012 Hubs Hit Northern California

Tony Sillemon

African-American HIV/AIDS activists came together in Northern California to share knowledge about the International AIDS Conference, which was held in Washington, D.C., back in July. These HIV Post-Conference Updates, sponsored by the Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN) and the Black AIDS Institute, were held in San Francisco on Aug. 30 at the Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA)/Rafiki Wellness Center and in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 31 at CAL-PEP's headquarters.

BTAN delegates -- including Perry Lang, the executive director of BCA/Rafiki, in addition to Carla Dillard Smith and Ben Plumley from Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, Ije Ude from Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Disease, Jamilla Shipp from CAL-PEP and Craig Hutchinson from University of California, San Francisco -- held panels discussing the information that they learned about the latest HIV research, testing and treatment news released at AIDS 2012. Main topics included the newest data on black MSM; testing, treating and mobilizing the Black community; HIV and hepatitis C coinfection; and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

"I have worked in HIV for 15 years, and this was the first time that I was able to attend the International AIDS Conference, and it was just awesome," said Tony Sillemon, Ph.D., co-chair of the Oakland Transitional Grant Area Collaborative Community Planning Council. He added, "So to go back and bring the two counties together with this information is an amazing opportunity.

Gloria Crowell, director of development at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, echoed the same sentiment. She said, "After returning from AIDS 2012, it is clear that we have to widely educate and widely provide HIV testing to the entire African American community." She added, "Hosting a forum where our community can come together to learn and create strategy is the main goal of the Oakland Post-Conference HUB."

This type of information exchange is crucial for Black communities in the Bay Area.

It's estimated that in Alameda County -- where Oakland is located -- more than 7,000 residents were living with HIV/AIDS. Oakland also has one of the highest rates in that county, with 50.4 cases per 100,000 residents. African American women, young people and MSM account for most of these new infections.

In 2011, San Francisco had more than 18,000 residents living with HIV/AIDS. While most of those infections occur among White populations, the numbers are growing among people of color and women.

Interestingly enough, while San Francisco and Oakland are less than 10 miles apart, each city has responded to the AIDS epidemic very differently. Even though both are dealing with high rates of poverty, drug use and homelessness, funding and resources divide the two. San Francisco, the epicenter of the epidemic in the early days, has far more resources, funding and advocates to work within the city limits, while Oakland is lagging behind.

And it's with these obstacles in mind that Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, emphasizes that the community must step up and think outside the box when it comes to confronting this crisis head on. He said, "Words are not enough now; we are beyond the meetings and the conversations. We can end AIDS in the Bay Area if we act decisively, boldly and locally."

Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Chicago-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her work has been featured in Essence, The Advocate, The Root, The Huffington Post and The Body.