As I was chatting with a friend recently, she shared something that I found surprising: She’d never had an AIDS test. When I asked her why she as a single, thirtysomething woman in this day and age had never been tested, she couldn’t really come up with a reason. But she promised that she’d always been “very careful.” Unfortunately, being careful is no guarantee: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 68 percent of newly reported HIV/AIDS cases are African-American women, and almost two thirds of all women living with HIV/AIDS are Black.
With numbers like these, it’s going to take our conscious, concerted efforts to stop the spread of this epidemic. That’s why we developed “The Story of AIDS in Black America,” a special two-part series on the impact the disease is having in our communities 25 years after the first case was diagnosed in the United States. Over the course of nine months we dispatched reporters and photographers across the country to record the experiences of everyday women, men and children who’ve been affected by HIV/AIDS. And this past summer our senior health editor, Lynya Floyd, attended the Global AIDS conference in Toronto. “I came away realizing that each one of us has to do something to stop the progression of the disease,” she says. “We can’t rely on other people to handle it.”
Moving each one of us to do something is exactly what Essence editors had in mind back in December 1994, when they made the bold step to put Rae Lewis-Thornton (below) on the cover. Recalling Lewis-Thornton’s comments-“I’m young. Well-educated. Professional. Attractive. Smart. I’m a Christian. I’ve never been promiscuous.”-I couldn’t help but think she sounded very much like my friend who had never been tested. Except Lewis-Thornton ended by saying, “And I am dying of AIDS.” Fortunately, Lewis-Thornton is still alive. But twelve years ago, when Essence first sounded an alarm, 66 percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS were Black. Today the rate of HIV/AIDS diagnoses for African-Americans is nearly ten times the rate for Whites.
Our new series (page 177) is another wake-up call. The editors developed this two-part series to remind our community to protect itself and stop ostracizing those who are infected. After all, our lives are in our hands.
Photo Credit: Carlo Dalla Chiesa
Photo Credit: Quantrell Colbert
Faces of AIDS, then and now: Lana Taylor (above) tells her story of being a senior citizen with AIDS; this 1994 Essence cover (right) started an important conversation.