This morning, I took a personal step towards ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic: I signed The Washington D.C. Declaration, a petition to raise awareness about the great opportunity we have right now to end the epidemic. It was created by some of the world's most prominent AIDS activists, doctors, researchers, policy-makers and others who have dedicated their lives to this fight. You can follow the Declaration on Facebook and Twitter (or search for 2endAIDS).
I am a 20 year-old Black American woman attending the International AIDS Conference for the first time. I admit that I definitely experience the sensational feeling of invincibility that naturally comes with my age. But as I learn more about the epidemic than I knew before I came here, I realize that I can no longer turn my cheek to the impact that this disease is having upon my demographic group or the devastation it has brought upon the Black community as a whole.
According to the Kaiser Family more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., and about half of them are Black. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that although Black teens (ages 13-19) represent only about 15 percent of U.S. teenagers, they account for approximately 70 percent of new AIDS diagnoses among teens. And among Black women and Latinas, about 60 percent of new HIV infections occur among those ages 13-39, and about one-third of those happen among those under age 30.
Knowing that Black people have survived centuries of adversity in America, I become filled with sadness when I even consider the possibility that HIV/AIDS could cause our demise if we don’t act decisively.
That's why the Washington, D.C. Declaration was easy for me to sign.
The Declaration states that we have reached a unique point in the history of the AIDS epidemic and that we can begin to end it in my lifetime -- but we have to act now. It then outlines nine steps we need to take -- from investing in the latest scientific advances, to ending stigma and discrimination against both people who have and who are at risk of getting HIV, to making sure that everyone who needs treatment gets it, to getting communities more involved in fighting the spread of the virus.
Thinking about the theme of this year's International AIDS Conference -- turning the tide together -- has me imagining the force that young people -- and young Black people -- could have if we who are being impacted so hard can come together to become the DC Declaration's biggest supporters.
And why not sign on?
It's is an easy way for us to make our voices heard and let older generations know that, even though the goal of ending the epidemic may seem far-fetched to them, we younger generations are worth it and capable of making it happen. By signing the Declaration we can help end suffering and insure that our children and grandchildren can live healthy lives that are free of HIV.
So I am asking my peers -- and older people as well -- to take this collaborative step to help end the epidemic for our generation and future generations.
Go here to sign on and then use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and whatever other social media you use to ask your friends to sign too. While we're at it, we might as well make it a trending topic. So let's include the hashtag #2endAIDS in our tweets.
Lakin Starling is a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta and an aspiring journalist.