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National HIV/AIDS Awareness Rally Held in New Orleans

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By Michael A. Radcliff, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

If ever one needed their spirits lifted or simply a good laugh, one only needed a chance encounter with Londy.

Londy's side-splitting antics would have most folks crying for her to stop. The family comedienne, the class clown, her reputation for turning life's lemons into lemonade was legendary. She also loved kids… her kids, your kids, everybody's kids… a PTO board member, a volunteer crossing guard - Londy's dream job was to one day own a day care center. In the Spring of 2008, at the age of 36, Londy, a mother of three, died of AIDS.

"She's Left the Planet," her sister, award-winning poet, Nikki Napoleon pronounced, as she performed a heartfelt rendition of a love poem written in honor of her sister during the National HIV/AIDS Awareness rally through the Tremé neighborhood recently.

"Too many of us have already left the planet," echoed Michael Hickerson, a social worker, community activist, Family Research and Evaluation Specialist for Total Community Action and chief organizer of this year's event.

"Knowledge is power and education has always been our most effective weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he went on to say.

Partnering with Crescent City Links, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Dean Beverly Favre and SUNO's School of Social Work faculty, staff and students, nearly 300 individuals, organizations and schools participated in the march keynoted by City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

"A myriad of thanks," Mr. Hickerson went on to say, "go out to Sheriff Marlon Gusman's office, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Office of Public Health, and so many others who dedicated their time and money to make this event a success."

So where do we stand in our fight against HIV/AIDS in 2011?

Over the course of the past quarter-century, nearly 25 million people have died from AIDS. HIV/AIDS causes debilitating illness and premature death in people during their prime years of life and has devastated families and communities.

According to the Global Health Council, "Through unprecedented global attention and intervention efforts, the rate of new HIV infections has slowed and prevalence rates have leveled off in many regions. However, despite the progress seen in some countries and regions, the total number of people living with HIV continues to rise."

Below are some sobering facts about the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

• In 2008, globally, about two million people died of AIDS, 33.4 million were living with HIV and 2.7 million people were newly infected with the virus. As of March 31, 2009, a cumulative total of 28,843 persons have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana.

• HIV infections and AIDS deaths are unevenly distributed geographically and the nature of the epidemics vary by region. While epidemics are abating in some countries they are growing in others. In a recent study by UNICEF it is notable that "more than 90 percent of people with HIV are living in the developing world."

• The HIV/AIDS virus does not discriminate by age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status - everyone is susceptible. However, certain groups are at particular risk of HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDUs), and commercial sex workers or prostitutes.

• The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls (especially Africans and African Americans), has been particularly devastating. According to the World Health Organization (or WHO), women and girls now comprise 50 percent of those aged 15 and older living with HIV.

• HIV continues to disproportionately affect African Americans in Louisiana. In 2008, 72 percent of newly diagnosed HIV cases and 70 percent of newly diagnosed AIDS cases were among African Americans.

• The impact of HIV/AIDS on children and young people is a severe and growing problem. WHO goes on to say that, in 2008, 430,000 children under age 15 were infected with HIV and 280,000 died of AIDS. In Louisiana, in 2009 there were 308 cases of children under the age of 13 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

• In addition, globally, about 15 million children have lost one or both parents due to the disease.

Today there is hope. There are effective prevention and treatment interventions, as well as research efforts to develop new approaches, medications and vaccines. Consider that in 1993 the typical life expectancy for a symptomless person infected with HIV was less than seven years. The life expectancy of individuals with AIDS in 2011 has grown exponentially.

According to researcher Dr. Mark Stibich, "for people who have access to new medications for HIV, called 'highly active antiretroviral therapy' (or HAART), at age 20 - life expectancy has now increased to about 30 to 40 added years, if they can afford and take the HAART medication correctly." In other words, a 20-year-old individual diagnosed with AIDS today, who takes the proper medication, can now expect to live to be 50 or 60 years old - yet survival and quality of life are never synonymous.

Former African Union Leader Offers to Die as a Martyr

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Facing the almost inevitable dissolution of his 43 year regime, Muammar al-Gaddafi made what could be his last television address last week.

“I will not leave the country, and I will die as a martyr," Gaddafi, 68, said, blaming the week-old popular revolt on mercenaries, drug users and foreign influences.

Along with a growing movement against the Gaddafi family empire, defections were reported in the Libyan leader’s cabinet including “Gaddafi’s No. 2,” the interior minister, and Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali. "This regime is shaking, and this is the time to get rid of him," Aujali said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "The people are being kill[ed] in a brutal way. The people, they are without weapons, and the regime, they have all kind of weapons."

Resentment, ignited by revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, boiled over as Gaddafi positioned his son Saif al-Islam to take over his seat. Libyans lack civil liberties, are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, the confiscation of lands, and discrimination that singles out ethnic and tribal minorities. There is no constitution; Gaddafi’s “Green Book” is the basis for the political system. Political parties are banned as are free elections.

While unpopular at home, Gaddafi was an influential force throughout Africa, spending vast sums of oil money on projects in Liberia, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan. He was the largest benefactor of the African Union which he chaired in 2009, and called for a “United States of Africa,” with its own common army, its own passport, and its own currency (to be named “the Afro”). “Without Gaddafi, the pan-African movement is dead,” said Laura Seay, a political scientist at Morehouse College in Atlanta who specializes in African politics.

“He was the only prominent voice driving that movement. He was keeping those ideas alive. There’s nobody else with the financial resources available.”

“For better or worse, he will leave a vacuum behind him on the African landscape,” observed Geoffrey York, writing for the British Globe and Mail.

U.S. Mobile Court Brings Justice to Congolese Women

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

At a makeshift courtroom in the lakeside Congo village of Baraka, a military judge delivered justice last week for the women of South Kivu Province.

Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi received 20 years of hard time for inciting the mass rape of village women by his troops earlier this year. The somber faced Kibibi was taken away in handcuffs amidst hundreds of witnesses who gave the departing officer a piece of their mind.

Kibibi had turned his men on the village just after New Year’s in retaliation for the death of a soldier. His marauding troops smashed down doors and went house-to-house, pillaging, beating and raping for an entire night, from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day, witnesses said.

Activists hope this will be the first strike against soldier-rapists who act with impunity, unpunished for despicable crimes that are well-known to local leaders and the international community.

"The untouchable has been touched," Therese Kulungu, the lawyer representing the victims, told Reuters. Compensation was promised to the 49 women who testified and face "humiliation, degradation of their health, social stigmatization, risk of divorce, and possibility of HIV," presiding judge Col. Fredy Mukendi said.

The mobile court was paid for by George Soros' Open Society Initiative and aided by several other agencies, including the American Bar Association, Lawyers Without Borders and the U.N. Mission to Congo.

Artifacts from Lena Horne's Estate Auctioned

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

A Feb. 23 auction of approximately 200 items from the late legendary performer Lena Horne’s New York estate raked in $316,000, more than double the original estimates.

Doyle New York auction house sold the items, which once graced the singer’s elegant home on Manhattan’s upper east side. The loftiest prices was the winning bid for an abstract painting by Black muralist Charles Alston that sold for $20,000.

Other luxurious pieces included gowns, costume jewelry, memorabilia, books, photographs, and European-style furnishings. Several pieces fetching bids surpassing pre-sale estimates included a Louis Vuitton trunk bearing Lena Horne’s name that was expected to sell $500-$700 but sold for $20,000, a leather vanity case with her engraved initials that sold for $6,250 despite estimates of no more than $400 and a sequined sweater thought to be worth $100-200 that sold for $1,125.

Further, a Giorgio di Sant’Angelo-made reversible mink overcoat sold for more than $7,600 above its asking price, and a Chanel choker with gold-tone metal links and faux baroque pearls was sold for $1,000 more than pre-sale appraisals.

“She was a citizen of the world and there are so many parts of her exhibited by her wardrobe,” Louis Webre, a representative of the auction house, said at a private auction preview.

Horne, a civil rights activist, singer, actress and dancer, died last May at age 92.

White Out – Oscar and Culture

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By Julianne Malveaux, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Months ago, we knew that there would be no African American Oscar winners, mainly because we knew there were no Oscar nominees. What a denouement from that glorious year when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry were winners for films that, if flawed, celebrated their artistic genius. While the Oscars have not been an equal opportunity experience, there have been celebrated nominations and wins that have lifted up African Americans in film, and it may be a mistake to take just one year and turn it into a trend. Still.

What do films depict? In some ways they are reflections of our hopes, dreams, visions, fantasies and realities. Those who “green light” films offer opportunities to films that resonate – a stuttering king, a troubled ballerina. Those of us who know writers and thinkers in the African American world know there are equally compelling figures, but those who see film often reflect the sensibilities of their own age. In other words, what did it take for someone to decide that The Great Debaters would be a film that resonated? Why has Tyler Perry had to go the independent route? Who interprets culture and reality? Through which prism do they view the world? What do they see?

I think this question is especially pointed during this Great Recession, when there are such compelling economic stories that can be cast in a comedic and/or a dramatic light. I know that entertainment is partially about escapism, not just reality. Why else would a king’s stutter be more compelling than a sister’s foreclosure? Still, if I could give a green light, I’d ask someone to dramatize the story that Iyanla Vanzant tells in her latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces. How does a nationally acclaimed spiritual leader, teacher, and commentator emerge from a woman who has been broken, battered, abandoned and then some? Isn’t there some drama there? Why not tell that story?

Or if a king is so compelling, what about a queen? Why not tell the stories of the African American women in Black History who have made tremendous contributions. If we can talk about Ray Charles through Jamie Foxx, what about Cathy Hughes through Angela Bassett? Imagine the resonance of an entrepreneur so dedicated to her dream that she slept in the radio studio when she could not afford rent so she could keep her dream alive. Or what about Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who founded Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, a woman with a scant second grade education? Can we get some drama from the story of Elizabeth Keckley, the seamstress who supported a dissipated White master and his 17 relatives with her needle, a woman who bought her own freedom, became the confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and only fell out with her when she wrote a book because she needed the money?

Popular culture does not lift these women up, no matter how dramatic their stories, because we have not often been able to bridge the racial divide in drama, culture, and entertainment. Whatever is compelling in these stories is often muted by the racial aptitudes that shackle our nation. Thus, it is more interesting to learn of a British king who can’t speak the King’s English than an enslaved man like Frederick Douglas whose elocution inspires a nation. We could put the Frederick Douglas story on film, but they we’d have to deal with the miscegenation that makes many uncomfortable, the Black man, the White wife, the cultural barriers. Better to run to England with a stuttering King.

I’m not mad at Colin Firth and The King’s Speech, but I’m mad at a Hollywood that won’t take chances, a Hollywood that won’t lead with the films that are “green lighted”. If films reflect our turgid reality and our royal fantasies, not the vision for a redemptive future, then films hold us back instead of moving us forward.

This Oscar season is an exciting season for many individual artists. It is repudiation for African American people.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her most recent book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, is available at www.lastwordprod.com

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