Thursday, February 13, 2014

Eyes Open Wickedly Wide Part 2

Not Getting it Twisted: Black HIV AIDS Awareness Day 2014

I am my brother's and sister's keeper. That was the theme of the 14th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and the Know Now Reunion Reception took flight even as the forecasted "dusting" turned out to be more that we bargain for as well as the rest of the city for that matter.

 I fully appreciated those who came undeterred and open to recognizing the day where there were there were only a thimble full of other events scheduled to recognize the awareness day.

 In the meantime, as I moved forward with assisting the members of STRILITE in organizing, to our rancor and amazement the Arkansas Department of Health objected to the usage of the their Know Now campaign in regards to the event. This is where you should be saying, "say what?"

To my utter amazement and indignant rancor, I pointed out to these folks that this 2 year old, $150,000 dollar train wreck went from the original which featured "stock" photo's with little to no cultural sensitivity which got a rebuffed with a counter "Know Not" counter campaign from the members of STRILITE who felt that chosen images didn't resonate nor address that statistically this chronic disease was undeniably disproportionate among Black gay men 13-24. Nevertheless, it is fully understood HIV does not discriminate by race, class, locale or culture. Regardless of our race, many of us may know someone who is or was infected with HIV, especially considering that one in five Americans infected with HIV are unaware they have it. 

Furthermore there re-boot or second phase as they touted used local contacts of the STRILITE group to be featured as models. The significance of this is the fact that prior to this, no local men of color had been prominently featured in a campaign. Also the retained agency openly confirmed that they did not have "access" to such models and enlisted the help of the group.

Our premise was two fold, to reunite these models who were courageous enough to be used in such a campaign despite any possible stigma or homophobia that they might encounter. This milestone was simply overlooked by ADH although there was simple acknowledgement during a then Community Planning Group meeting. The models got no further recognition from ADH, no payment or incentive for their services and not even a framed copy of their respective poster. That's right folks, they got zip O!

However, ADH took exception with a Facebook event page despite the actual poster being disseminated for usage as part of their failed roll out that was to include a statewide distribution.
Even more glaring was the fact that they cited that using their material in relation to a bar was setting was inappropriate.

Yet I found evidence that the Know Now campaign was submitted for a 2013
NPH Excellence Award in which they clearly state not once but twice that the "campaign would be used in bars and bathhouses."  Yes, bathhouses in Little Rock?  That's a whole another story in itself.

I would like to again personally thank the management and crew of 610 lounge who expressed that they were unaware that Black HIV AIDS Day even existed and sought to embrace the idea from the word go. They added they had never seen the Know Now campaign and had no knowledge as to its meaning or use until being educated by myself.

Thank you event producer, Mr. Gregory May who called me after learning about the event and stated that he wanted to donate table linens and any other items needed because he was aware of my various collaborations around this health dilemma. Big shout out to Mr. John M. and O. C. whom expressed their pride in my taking a leadership role and how they felt connected despite their inability to be out front.

And finally thank you Mr. Shon D. who shared with me that I was his hero and has made himself a ready volunteer with aspirations to do more because he said "if you can then why can't I?"

Further I would like to thank the countless folks of all races who expressed to me how they feel I have impacted their lives from mentor to life coach using this work as a catalyst to decrease infection rates while increasing the information viral load of the community.  I can't tell you how your calls e-mail, personal interactions and even your Facebook "attaboy's" have touch me and often times fuel me to keep asking the hard questions while attempting to advocate on your behalf.

To the many who have shared with me your status, challenges, terrors and observations around the issues of HIV and AIDS, I applaud you and continue to encourage you to become empowered via updated information and not skewed facts or notions that somehow recognizing Black HIV Awareness Day is for Black people, it is not and never has, but rather simply a day in which I unapologetically believe must continue as a tool of the end game of HIV and AIDS in the Black community.

The work goes on, the struggles continues and celebrating our uniqueness or the diversity within it should not be a question but a deciding moment to be keenly aware that we are all are living affected by HIV and AIDS.

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