By: Tony McCray

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was commemorated in Pensacola at Houser Memorial AME Zion Church on Tuesday, January 7th at 6:00 pm. Participants attending were the Mother Wit Institute led by Mrs. Georgia Blackmon and Mr. Johnnie Blackmon, the Florida Department of Health, the Escambia Health Department, the NAACP Pensacola Branch, the Red Ribbon Foundation, 100 Black Women, Progressive Black Women, Mount Canaan Baptist Church, First BAPTIST Church Ferry Pass, Talbot Chapel AME Church, and many more Pensacola Community Partners.

The theme for this year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is “I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper. Fight HIV/AIDS!”  City Councilwoman Jewel Canada Wynn brought remarks along with Ms. Debbie Carty, the HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator of Area 1 of Escambia County Health Department, Mr. Rodney Jones, President Pensacola Branch of the NAACP, and Minister Monique Turner of Talbot Chapel AME Zion Church.  The guest speaker was Rev. Samford Hayes of New Life Missionary Baptist Church in Crestview Florida.

The day was originally established in 1999 to call attention to the impact of HIV and AIDS in the black/African-American community, and 18 years later, it is a vital reminder that in Los Angeles County — and indeed across the country — the impact of HIV continues to be devastating. According to the 2017-2021 Comprehensive HIV Plan for Los Angeles County, for example, the HIV epidemic among the black/African-American community in our own backyard encompasses the following statistics:

*Blacks/African-Americans are one of three racial/ethnic groups most impacted by HIV

*Among men who have sex with men (MSM) blacks/African-Americans have the highest estimated HIV prevalence

*Young (18-29) black/African American MSM are one of the fastest-rising groups contracting HIV

*New HIV diagnoses both adults/adolescent males and females is highest among blacks/African-Americans

*Among females living with HIV, the majority are black/African-American

For a sobering perspective on the epidemic nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year reported that if current trends continue, one in two black/African-American MSM will contract HIV in their lifetime. Fifty percent. Even PrEP, the daily use of a pill that prevents HIV, approved four years ago, is not yet making major inroads in communities of color, due to lack of awareness, problems with access, and concerns about its cost as well as distrust of the medical establishment (the shameful legacy of Tuskegee still looms large).

The steps that this observance asks us to take are:

Get Educated, Get Tested, Get Involved and Get Treated

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