MORE

Black AIDS: 'Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution'

Black AIDS. This is the way that activists and organizations in the African-American community have come to think of the virus. And no wonder, when one in 50 black men and one in 160 black women is HIV positive, when half of all the people dying of AIDS are black. Why, when the overall number of new cases of HIV infection is going down, does the percentage of blacks included in that figure continue to grow? Many AIDS organizations with an African-American clientele believe that part of the problem lies in black alienation from the types of prevention and treatment now being offered. In response, these groups are creating their own models, from a black-specific point of view. Here are a few.

"Our people, our problem, our solution." That’s the motto of the 2-year-old African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute. Located south of downtown and affiliated with the University of Southern California, the institute bills itself as the nation’s only think tank devoted entirely to black HIV and AIDS. Last June, the institute launched a two-year training program to teach activists and others about AIDS in the black community. "It is rarely possible for outsiders to come in and solve other people’s problems," says founding director Phill Wilson. More information about the institute is available at its Web site, www.blackAIDS.org, or by calling 877-757-AIDS.

The Amassi Center first opened its doors in Inglewood in 1993. Driven by the vision of founder Cleo Manago, the Amassi Center is, in Manago’s words, "a cultural center with a health focus." In addition to HIV prevention and intervention, the center offers free mental-health services and free fitness and tutoring programs, while also sponsoring neighborhood street festivals. "If you just call it an AIDS clinic, black people are not going to come," he says. "You have to offer programs that affirm, support and nurture." Manago recently opened a second Amassi Center in Leimert Park Village. For more information on either center, call (310) 419-1969.

As pastor of Unity Fellowship Church and head of the Minority AIDS Project, the Reverend Alfreda Lanoix was one of the pioneers in creating programs specifically targeting African-Americans. The Minority AIDS Project turns 16 this year, but Lanoix recognizes that much more needs to be done. Last year she launched Say Sister, a spiritually based HIV-prevention program funded by the Centers for Disease Control that is geared specifically toward black women. "We have really shifted our focus onto the African-American woman," Lanoix says. "What we are discovering is what we kind of already knew, that because women have always been treated as second-class citizens, the numbers of black women with AIDS are really escalating." For more information call (323) 938-8322.

PUSH for Life, a component of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, is focusing its efforts on removing the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS in the black community. The organization is encouraging African-American church leaders to publicly test for HIV, and at the group’s annual conference, scheduled for August 8 through 11 in Chicago, HIV and AIDS in prison will be a major theme. "The prison population has typically been the last to the table,’" said Lydia L. Watts, head of the Push for Life program and Chicago’s former director for correctional-health-care initiatives. "Our reluctance to deal with this population has been based on a deliberate and indifferent mindset." To maintain this mindset, she says, would be devastating for the black community. As Jackson himself has said, the goal is to "remove the sense of shame that keeps us from being rational about a disease that kills." For more information on PUSH for Life, contact (202) 333-5270, www.rainbowpush.org.

At UCLA, which has long been a leader in research on AIDS and HIV, hundreds of HIV-related studies are under way at any given time. One of the university’s most prominent investigators of the social trends involving the virus is Dr. Gail Wyatt. Among the studies she’s conducting now are one that examines the ways women get infected with HIV, another that looks at HIV-infected women who have suffered from sexual abuse, and a third on the psychological readiness of men and women to adhere to their HIV medication. "If you don’t understand the people and their values," she says, "you can’t begin to understand how to change their behavior." For more information on participating in one of the studies, contact (310) 825-0193, www.uclasexualhealth.org.