NAACP: Moves To Fight HIV/AIDS Among Blacks
Responding to criticism that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "has done too little to combat the growing AIDS epidemic among African Americans," NAACP leaders yesterday "promised a series of actions to raise awareness of the disease even as they defended their record on the issue." NAACP Board Chair Julian Bond noted that AIDS has become "a black epidemic," saying that although they comprise just 13% of the U.S. population, blacks account for 57% of the country's new HIV infections. He said, "We need to step up our efforts in the fight for fair distribution of AIDS services. Don't let anyone tell you AIDS is God's curse. ... Don't let anyone tell you it is a gay disease ... it doesn't just happen to 'them'; it happens to your brother and, more and more, to your sister, too. Bond denied his words represent a change in NAACP policy, insisting that the NAACP has "consistently spoken out on the AIDS crisis," the Washington Post reports. He said, "We have a long history of activism against AIDS dating back to 1987, but much, much more needs to be done" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 7/13).
Takin' It To The Streets
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume led some 50 AIDS activists through downtown Atlanta early yesterday morning on the second day of the civil rights group's annual convention, the Baltimore Sun reports. The group carried a banner and chanted "No progress, no peace." Atlanta-based AIDS activist Denise Stokes said, "We're involved in a brand-new movement. It's not about the color of our skin and the right to live in dignity. It's about the right to live -- period" (Texeira, Sun 7/13). The Washington Post reports that "Mfume opened the convention yesterday promising 'an outright street protest' to highlight the skyrocketing rate of AIDS among blacks." He said, "It is a national emergency in many respects" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 7/12).
The Washington Post notes that "[i]n recent years, some AIDS activists have accused the NAACP and other major civil rights groups of shying away from the issue for fear of offending their members, many of whom are conservative church stalwarts who associate [AIDS] with the gay community." Mfume addressed the perception that black leaders as well as the government are avoiding the issue at yesterday's demonstration, saying, "We just don't understand the absolute silence of the government on this issue and, quite frankly, among too many of us." He told reporters, "It's something to be talked about, and it's something, quite frankly, that we ourselves must find a way to deal with" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 7/13). In a letter to the editor in Saturday's New York Times, Mfume wrote that many people "wrongly believe" the NAACP has "done little" about HIV/AIDS. He noted that the organization's board declared AIDS a "public health crisis in the African-American community" in 1992. Further, he wrote, the group has petitioned Congress and the administration to "give minority communities the resources to battle the epidemic" and has taken a "bold stand to support needle- exchange programs as part of comprehensive drug treatment programs" (New York Times, 7/11).
Renewed Focus On Health
Writing in HealthQuest, NAACP National Health Coordinator Caya Lewis notes that African Americans "are disproportionately represented in almost every disease category," and account for "43% of new AIDS cases." She notes that the NAACP is working to address this disparity, "assert[ing] that poor health status germinates from the seeds of injustice and inequality." Lewis concludes, "Through health education, promotion and programming, the NAACP will heighten community awareness of health risks -- and health rights. In fighting for equality, we strive to eradicate physical and mental barriers that can deny African-Americans of their inalienable rights: life, liberty and good health" (Lewis, HealthQuest, July/August 1998). See the Daily HIV/AIDS Report for more coverage of this issue. The online report is available free through the Kaiser Family Foundation's website -- www.kff.org.