Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. Here, he states his vision of how we as a community can lessen the danger of AIDS for Black men and women.
Last month, I had the honor of opening the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS for a large Cincinnati church. During my conversation with the congregation, I encouraged them to consider two questions regarding the AIDS epidemic in Black communities: 1) What would Jesus do? 2) How would He guide us as people of faith? Throughout the New Testament, Jesus clearly describes how to treat people who are ill, suffering, outcast or stigmatized. In Matthew 25 we find this text: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Only loving God supersedes Christ’s instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This direction is the key to living an ethical, righteous life in accord with His teachings. Jesus’ life describes unequivocally how Christians should address HIV/AIDS. Christ would not only confront the epidemic by speaking out against stigma and discrimination, He would instruct us to embrace those with the disease, teach people how to protect themselves and tell us to advocate for the sick to receive appropriate care and treatment. Talking is greater than silence. I closed by asking congregants who were infected, affected, or who knew someone who was living with or had died from HIV/AIDS to stand. The minister, the first lady of the church and nearly the entire congregation stood. I approached those still seated, introduced myself, disclosed that I have been infected with HIV for 30 years and asked them to stand up with their church because now they too–like nearly 50% of Black Americans–know someone with HIV/AIDS. Last week I received a letter from a woman in attendance that Sunday. A member of her family had recently tested positive; the family had stayed silent, ashamed to disclose this to anyone. However, experiencing most of the church stand up as “infected and affected” helped them to tell several members of their faith family. Talking is greater than silence
because it allows us to receive needed love, help and assistance; it also liberates us and gives others the opportunity to live up to Jesus’ commandment. There are also practical benefits. Whether or not you are HIV-positive, raise the topic of HIV with your doctor whether or not your doctor raises it with you. Discuss your sexual and drug-using behavior so your doctor can assess your risk factors and you learn what to change, as necessary. Uncertain of your HIV status? Gain the peace of mind of knowing–knowing is greater than doubt. In the event that you’re HIV-positive, communicating with your doctor will help you access appropriate care that can dramatically extend and enhance your life. Talking to your family and loved ones is especially important. As the Cincinnati family experienced, when one member gets HIV/AIDS, we all get HIV/AIDS–not because we become infected; HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, so drinking from the same glass, sharing eating utensils, hugging and kissing do not put you at risk–but because the family may carry the stigma and shame. Any loss of income can destabilize the family, and unforeseen medical and other expenses can occur. Yet Black families have a long tradition of surviving challenges. Those who weather them successfully do so because they talk to each other, care for each other and love each other. Talking is greater than silence. And Black families are greater than AIDS. Phill Wilson is President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. Read More: