It has been 25 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that has so decimated American society. Over time, this disease has destroyed families, lives and dreams. On the other hand, it has also brought together communities in ways no other disease could have.
This has become even more evident within the African American community. As a gay black man living with the virus, I have witnessed this and have had the opportunity to become a part of it. As an AIDS educator and activist, I observed our community’s transition as we moved from a state of denial to a position of activism. I know the price of this journey intimately. You see, I recently lost the love of my life to this disease.
By no means was this evolution smooth. Allow me to refresh your memory.
In the early 1980s, we the black community viewed AIDS as a white gay men’s disease. We “knew” what a victim looked like and “knew” how to avoid contracting the virus. As a result, we turned a blind eye to the whole thing. It wasn’t our problem.
And then it happened. We began to recognize an increase in the number of AIDS cases within our community. Most were men between the ages of 35 and 50. Most were gay or bisexual. And most had full- blown AIDS by the time they were diagnosed. Still, we chose to ignore the signs.
Families rarely spoke about it. Many infected individuals declined to tell their families for fear of being labeled or ostracized. The families of people who succumbed to this disease often explained their deaths as cancer-related. The religious community refused offers for education and outreach. We refused to listen.
By the mid-1990s the epidemic took a turn. Women, teens and children began testing positive for the virus at an alarming rate. Then the black community sat up and took notice. We realized that we were vulnerable. This was no longer a white gay men’s disease, but anybody’s disease.
We began to welcome education, testing and treatment within our community. But the damage was already done. By 2004, African American people constituted over half of the reported cases but we made up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
We have come a long way since those days. We have taken the initiative to make sure that our community is educated. Many of us have become involved in outreach, testing and treatment and we have become more compassionate toward those living with this disease. Church leaders have taken up the mantle. And each year we are becoming more visible at the AIDS Walk.
But we’ve only begun. This is a war. We have a weapon called knowledge; we just lack the soldiers. So as we approach this year’s AIDS Walk, consider this. We all have the ability to become teachers and activists. Come join us in the trenches. Take the time to get involved. You could make a difference.

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