AFRICAN AMERICANS: Bay-Area Black Churches Respond to AIDS
While many HIV-positive African Americans in the Bay-Area are not receiving the benefits of advances in anti-HIV treatments, some black churches are taking a more active role in HIV education and prevention, the Los Angeles Times reports. Since many blacks have a strong connection to a church, religious leaders can play a vital role in fighting the AIDS epidemic, according to Pernessa Seele, founder of the Balm of Gilead, a not-for-profit organization that teaches clergy how to educate their congregations on the disease. "Historically, if you want to organize around anything, you go to the church. With AIDS devastating our community we must use that vehicle which we know," she said. However, the religious community has only begun to respond. Two such examples are the San Francisco-based Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the Oakland-based Allen Temple Baptist Church. Glide Memorial welcomes gays, drug abusers and the homeless and provides condoms and HIV testing guidance. Allen Temple holds monthly meetings to recruit volunteers who serve as buddies for people with AIDS and runs an AIDS case management center. Last month, the church opened 25 low-cost housing units for disabled patients. Allen Temple member Dr. Robert Scott, an Oakland physician who treats HIV, says, "As a church we're having to confront a whole population of people who are marginalized. We certainly don't want to push aside and marginalize people of our own race."
The churches recently received some financial help from President Clinton. At the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton allocated $156 million to fight AIDS in minority communities in 1998. Since that announcement, the AIDS National Interfaith Network, a clearinghouse for religious groups that provide HIV education, has received many inquiries from church leaders. The additional funds allowed the CDC to boost its faith-based initiative's funding from a meager $100,000 to $2 million. Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the CDC's Center for Prevention of HIV, STDs and Tuberculosis, said, "Clearly as the epidemic continues to spread -- and particularly in communities of color -- I think religious leaders in faith communities realize the role they can play" (Lite, Los Angeles Times, 1/2).