Sheryl Lee Ralph rebuffs the Pope’s comments on AIDS in Africa>>

Activist and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph speaks out on Washington D.C.’s alarming HIV/AIDS rates and exlplains why Black America “needs a movement.”

A new report states that at least 3 percent of Washington, D.C.’s residents are infected with the HIV or AIDS, making it one of the nation’s highest rates. But seriously, how long ago did we start hearing that report? Two or three years ago? Back then they warned that the rate of infection in D.C. was rivaling sub-Saharan Africa. Why are they ringing the alarm now? Because people are realizing how bad it is. But I’m going to look at the bright side of this and believe that, because we have an incredible President and First Lady, then we need to do something about this. Here’s a President who went and got tested for HIV/AIDS in Kenya with his wife, which inspired me and my husband, Senator Vincent Hughes, to get tested together and encourage other loving couples to do the same.

I’ve been saying this for a long time and I’m going to keep on saying it because I love my people: It’s time we take drastic measures, we need a movement. Again, whenever there is silence, poverty, a lack of education, classism, it becomes fertile ground for this disease to take root in our communities and rival rates of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s got to get better because we are in a state of emergency. I would like to see a dedicated program devoted to age-appropriate messages that address young and old people. It makes me think America hates its young people so much that they wouldn’t even take the time to talk to them about saving their own lives.

Most of the D.C. residents who are infected are over 40. Some might find that surprising but I don’t because Viagra changed everything for a lot of folks. These old men who come from a generation that never liked or believed in using condoms are jumping around chanting, “Viva Viagra,” because when they sneak and get that Saturday night special and come home and sleep with their Big Mama, it’s a huge problem. Now, our daughters, sisters, wives, mothers are being infected, and once Big Mama is infected, well then the children begin suffering and we have this epidemic on our home soil.

I met D.C.’s mayor, Adrian Fenty, and I said, “I’d love to have a discussion with you about how I can help find new ways to tackle our HIV/AIDS problem,” and I swear it was as if he didn’t hear me. Maybe it wasn’t the right place or time, but I strongly believe that Black men and women need to sing in one accord and begin creating duets together so we can get some news songs in the key of life and that has to start today.

The views of activist and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph are not necessarily the views of or ESSENCE magazine.