One of the big differences between now and 31 years ago, when AIDS made its unwelcome debut in the United States, is that many of those battling the disease or the virus (HIV) that causes it are much more inclined to share their plights in hopes of raising awareness, increasing understanding and educating a population that remains largely ignorant about the subject.
But are we listening?
If we look at the local World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) panel discussion held at the Central Library, then the answer would sadly be ‘no.’ The stellar panel included Dr. Nathan Scovens, the pastor of one of the city’s largest and most influential church’s (Galilee Missionary Baptist), who bravely talked about how his mother died of AIDS after being infected by his stepfather. Though it is a topic that Scovens has never shied away from, such openness by a prominent black pastor is rare. Unfortunately, only a crowd of less than 20 people were on hand to hear the poignancy of the pastor’s remarks. The masses also missed out on hearing directly from Rev. Savalas R. Squire Sr. and Wanda Brendle Moss, two local residents who have boldly come forward to share their stories of HIV-infection so that they may serve as cautionary tales for others.
Many of the panelists agreed that black churches have taken a step toward addressing HIV/AIDS and the taboo subjects of sex, drug-use and homosexuality, which are all closely tied to the issue. If that is indeed the case, it is welcome news. The black church’s reluctance is undoubtedly one of the reasons why HIV/AIDS has become such a problem in the African American community.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are stark. Blacks, although just 14 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 44 percent of all of the nation’s new HIV infections in 2009. Black men, who account for about 70 percent of the new HIV infections in the black community, have an infection rate nearly seven times higher than white men. For black women, the rate of new HIV infections is more than 15 times higher than that of white women.
When it comes to this disease, silence is deadly for black folks. As Squire points out, historically the black church has never been shy about speaking out. When water hoses and dogs were turned on blacks in the South in the 1960s, the church preached persistence and civil disobedience, and in the age of Obama, few black pastors have held their tongues about the importance of voting.
So why are our pastors timid about this subject? We don’t know, but hope they find the courage that Scovens, Squire and Moss have shown and work to break down walls of ignorance and silence.