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The Story of AIDS in Black America, Part One

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A quarter century after the first AIDS diagnosis in America, the disease has become a global pandemic, and the rates within our community are staggering: African-Americans account for half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, and the disease is the leading cause of death for young Black women. Essence dispatched writers and photographers across the country to gather 25 different perspectives on how HIV/AIDS has touched our lives. Standing at the crossroads of progress and pessimism, denial and truth, these sisters and brothers take a hard look at where we’ve been and the long road ahead.
—The Editors

ST. JOHN NO. 5 FAITH CHURCH
The Congregation

The Reverend Bruce Davenport (above, with Bible) took over as pastor of the 200-member St. John No. 5 Faith Church after ending his affiliation with a local Baptist organization upset over his passing out condoms and sermonizing on AIDS. With his wife, Deborah Davenport, and his daughter, Tamachia Davenport, he runs St. John’s AIDS outreach ministry, which in 1993 became the first church-based AIDS project in New Orleans to be granted city funding.

Our youth director was a gay man so afraid of being cast out that he didn’t tell anyone he had full-blown AIDS until he was in the hospital. Our church just embraced him. We knew that if this kind of silence was going on in our midst, it was also going on in the community. We chose to step into the gap.

We are right across from the St. Bernard housing projects, which we call our vineyard. Before Hurricane Katrina struck, they would have five or more AIDS diagnoses a month. We will serve that community as New Orleans reopens those houses to residents, and we’ll also continue our work in other neighborhoods. We offer testing and counseling. We help residents buy medicine, help them manage their limited household budgets, and arrange for hospice care when that time comes. We do whatever is needed. We are a Bible-based church, teaching the word of God. And the word says we must help. As people of faith, we believe we have no choice except to do this work until God tells us to stop.

Credit: Jeffrey Salter

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