The Rev. Bruce Davenport, pastor of New Orleans' St. John No. 5 Baptist Faith Church, is affectionately known to his congregants as "Da Condom Father." A certified HIV counselor, Davenport has preached about HIV/AIDS and STD prevention from his pulpit since the mid-1990s.
Together with daughter Tamachia, Davenport has taken his safe-sex campaign out of the church and into the community. Every afternoon, volunteers dressed in red shirts and khaki pants go door-to-door in neighborhoods hit hardest by HIV. The team also visits barbershops, convenience stores, pharmacies, bars, and adult-entertainment clubs, often in crime-ridden areas. They hand out colored, flavored condoms and HIV/STD pamphlets to anyone wanting them. "They know we're coming around to give them goodies," said Tamachia.
In 2009, Davenport and volunteers dressed as "The HIV Prevention Mobsters" for a billboard that attracted local and national attention. In bold red letters, the sign in downtown New Orleans read "HIV ... It's time to take control of this GANGSTA."
Working with a small staff, St. John No. 5 offers testing services Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Around 15 people from all over the city are tested each week, but the number can go as high as 30, said Davenport.
In 2010, St. John No. 5 initiated "Faith in Action," a multi-faith network of nine other churches and a mosque dedicated to raising HIV awareness statewide. But Tamachia said "coordination, cooperation, and consistency" are still not the norm when it comes to HIV prevention. "How can you not help when, as a church, you're supposed to help?" Davenport wondered.