Next Thursday, February 7this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Change Agents and student influencers from across the city are invited to participate in an informative evening that will include an exercise to help them practice asking difficult questions about promoting safe sex.
31 years ago, Magic Johnson made an announcement which shocked and reverberated around America. Who of us does not recall listening to Magic Johnson’s live press conference? It was 1991 when Magic’s voice took over my car radio, “Because of the HIV virus I have obtained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” he announced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbdOQUARrEU[CL1] Stunned, I reflected upon his sobering words. What did that mean? Was this a death sentence for him?…For his wife? For black men? Is Magic gay? So many questions raced through my mind; the plight of a generation who until now failed to grapple with the devastating consequences of a silent killer that does not discriminate based on race, age, gender, or sexual preference.
In 1989, two years prior to Magic Johnson’s press conference, my mother, Dr. Evelyn Gibson Lowery held an “AIDS Awareness Sunday” ecumenical service in New York as part of her personal commitment to address HIV/AIDS education in the black community. She courageously made HIV/AIDS education a priority of the organization she founded and led: SCLC/WOMEN. She sponsored the creation of a play, “Ain’t You Glad You’ve Got Choices” working with high school students to help educate kids. She held workshops across the country. She implored pastors and the community of faith to take the lead in educating the black community. Some greeted her fervor and dedication with a spirit of love and cooperation. Others displayed a spirit of fear and conflicting religious views that sought to condone inaction and silence. Irrespective of any negative reactions, she moved forward in partnership with my father (and SCLC) Together, they coordinated workshops across the country including the program below held in New York in 1989. Imagine that. 1989! Two years BEFORE Magic Johnson’s announcement. She compiled a book of “sermonettes” for use at religious events for those who would appreciate a guide to assist in inclusion.
30 years later, we face some of the same challenges and obstacles in educating about HIV/AIDS. For many, it is still a topic not easily discussed in our homes, schools, or churches. Today, Lowery Institute Board Chair Bishop Woodie White leads an effort to update the “suggested semonnettes”. Our goal is to create an updated version of Dr. Lowery’s booklet for use in the community of faith.
According to the CDC, “Stigma, fear, discrimination, and homophobia may place many African Americans at higher risk for HIV. New HIV Diagnoses in the US and Dependent Areas for the Most-Affected Subpopulations, 2017 https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html[
February 7, 2019 ought to serve as a reminder that we be intentional about HIV/AIDs prevention and education. To accomplish this aim, our Change Agents will review a short movie about a couple who face a tough conversation. After the film, they will engage in a Q&A with experts working on these issues and identify and practice asking questions designed to make safe sex a part of intimate conversations. And then, next steps….
We are grateful for the vision and leadership of Dr. Evelyn Gibson Lowery and her commitment to educate the black community about HIV/AIDS some 30 years ago. She was a brave pioneer and innovator way ahead of her time. We at the LI will continue to be intentional about HIV/AIDS education – facts- (as the CA’s say). We are proud to partner with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and are excited to review their movie, 90 days, at the event. They do incredible work and we look to expand our partnership in other markets.
The real question is, as student leaders, what will they do with this newfound knowledge? Will they incorporate it into their lifestyles?.[ Will it impact their choices? Will HIV/AIDS education become a priority as they move forward in their leadership circles? How will Change Agents react to knowing that (according to the CDC) within the Atlanta University Center zip code (30314) 5,100 of every 100,000 people are living with HIV, of which, 18.5% are within the range of 13 and 24 years old? Will this impact their desire to educate, prevent, advocate?
It’s time to take HIV/AIDs education to another level as only agents of change can. So, what’s the plan Change Agents? Look for their blogs following the February 7th, 2019 event.