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HIV-Positive for 20-Plus Years and 'One of The Lucky Ones'

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By Linda Villarosa
Special to NNPA from The Black AIDS Institute

MELBOURNE, Australia – Steven Watiti was diagnosed with HIV in 1993. His wife was pregnant with their second child when she died of the disease, along with their baby. “That left me with my daughter who was four,” said Watiti, a Ugandan physician. He spoke on a panel at the International AIDS Conference here last week about people who have lived with HIV for 20 years or more. “I thought I’d be dead by the year 2000, and my daughter would join a long list of orphans in Uganda,” he said.

Overcoming meningitis, TB and Kaposi sarcoma, Watiti held on until anti-retroviral medication saved his life. He went back to work and now talks openly about his HIV status with his colleagues and patients. “I am 61,” he said to loud applause. “I have lived half of my life with HIV.”

Several other so-called 20-plus positives joined Watiti, including the moderator Suzette Moses-Burton, executive director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV. She was diagnosed with the virus in 1992, and was told she had two years to live. Twenty-two years later, she says, “I now face a whole host of new problems, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.”

Long-term survival is a hot topic here, and over the week, a number of panels examined issues related to aging with HIV.

Lwendo Mbulo has been living with the virus all 23 years of her life, though she didn’t find out until age 14 when her parents shared the news. “They told me ‘you got it from us,’” said Mbulo, a member of a people with AIDS group in Zambia.

Though at first she felt like her dreams had been shattered, now medication, support and motherhood have turned her life around. “I can now stand up for my fellow youth to be a voice for them,” she says.

The experiences of the 20-plus positives, differ from those of the newly infected, explained John Rock, a treatment advocate based in Australia. He was diagnosed with HIV 34 years ago.

“Many of us feel like we lost what could or should have been the best years of our life,” he said. “We missed our 30s, our major earning power. We do have good treatments but I have to see a lot of doctors – six specialists.

“For people who were diagnosed in 2000 or after, it’s a very different situation,” Rock suggested, referring to anti-HIV medications, or ARVs. “They are more likely to have started ARVs before there was damage to the immune system. We don’t know the long-term consequences of ARVs, but they work and lead a pretty normal life.”

Still, he added, “I just turned 70. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m one of the lucky ones.”

The panel also included representatives from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, PEPFAR and UNAIDS responding to the comments of the long-time positives and discussing policies and solutions. But when it was their turn to comment, the temperature went from simmer to boil when one of the officials urged the long-time positives to be less quiet and ask for more. That’s when Burton exercised her moderator’s prerogative and let loose a string of blunt, unvarnished remarks.

“While I have no intention of being confrontational and certainly not to Ambassador Birx, I do have a response for you,” said Moses Burton. Deborah Birx oversees PEPFAR, the multi-billion dollar U.S. program aimed at fighting HIV worldwide.

“Part of the reason the voices seem to be quiet, is because the reality is we are tired. I am tired of having to say the same things, to the same circles, to the same people, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I’ve been saying the same thing for 22 years.”

Her voice shaking as she teared up, Moses-Burton continued. “I speak so passionately to our partners especially: help us not be so tired. Help alleviate some of this burden of carrying this thing, all of this responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our entire community. That is a tremendous burden that nobody prepared us for.”

The tension passed; the community is small and there was no residual drama or ill will between two committed women focused on a shared goal. But the event offered a rare, uncensored moment outside of the more informal and community-oriented Global Village, which is open to the public as well as conference delegates.

In the end another policymaker on the panel bridged the divide between the long-time positives and the officials. “People on the policy side are also close to the realities,” said Mbulawa Mugabe, a UNAIDS deputy director, originally from Botswana. Over a decade ago, he learned that his sister had developed AIDS. Now she’s a grandmother.

“At some point today’s babies born with HIV will be 20, 30, 50,” Mugabe said. “When they begin to age, their needs are going to change, and we have to make sure that at every stage in their life course we can respond and respond appropriately.”

Linda Villarosa runs the journalism program at City College in Harlem and writes frequently about health and social issues. This is the sixth International AIDS conference she has attended as a volunteer reporter. Follow her on Twitter @lindavillarosa.

Minority Teachers Abandon Classrooms; Blacks, Latino Educators Find Other Professions

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By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Minorities are significantly underrepresented in public schools, despite the fact that the number of black and Latino students have increased.

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Northwest — “The Leaky Pipeline for Teachers of Color: Getting More Teachers of Color into the Classroom” — revealed that while much has been done in the past 25 years to substantially increase the number of minority teachers, high levels of attrition has offset that success.

“If you spend time in almost any major school district in America today, you will notice that the students often do not look much like the teachers. In fact, in some areas, the students don’t look anything like their teachers,” said Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at CAP. “There is a significant demographic gap in the largely white teaching profession and an increasingly diverse student population,” he said.

Released on July 7, the report revealed that black and Latinos are more likely to work and remain in high-poverty, hard-to-staff urban schools and districts than their white counterparts; in fact, they often consider it their duty to do so.

What’s more, minority teachers usually are committed to the success of children of color, and they affect a wide range of student academic outcomes, the report’s authors said. They also serve as powerful role models for all students and prove that teaching can be a viable career for minorities.

Deaundra Francis, of Northeast who holds a Master’s of Public Administration, said there are three major hurdles facing minorities who aspire to become teachers.

“After working at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the Teacher Prep Student Support Services program, we found that black, low-income, first-generation college students had barriers that prevented them from completing their education degrees,” Francis said.

“Because it’s required by most states and higher education institutions to pass the Praxis I and II exams as well as all required courses, minorities have not been able to do so and they change their majors to something more compatible,” she said. “The second barrier is the financial and family obligations which may hinder future progress toward an education degree and the third barrier that I propose has to do with culture.”

Melissa Mesku, also of Northeast, who works for New Worker magazine, said she once taught at a high school in a poverty-stricken New York neighborhood and circumstances made it difficult for her to continue her career.

“I’m a woman of color and I taught English as a second language [ESL] for refugee and immigrant students and most of the newer teachers were also minorities at my school,” Mesku said. “I stayed for a year. Coming from a disadvantaged economic background, I simply couldn’t afford to continue to live on a teacher’s salary. If I wanted upward mobility, I had to move on to more lucrative work, especially considering the difficulties and commitments required to work in a hard-to-staff school and spending my own money to clothe and feed students and working 13 hours per day with no resources or books.”

Howard Receives $500K Endowment from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Howard University recently received a $500,000 endowment from the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, a gift the organization called a “reflection on its glorious past and the enormous achievements it has attained to date.”

On July 25, Phi Sigma Beta Inc. International President Jonathan Mason presented the gift to newly appointed Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick.

In a release announcing the presentation, the fraternity called Howard University “beacon light from which all of the [Phi Sigma Beta] organization’s amazing accomplishments have shined.”

A week before the presentation, Phi Sigma Beta celebrated the centennial of its founding with a gala event in Washington, D.C. The community service organization currently boasts more than 150,000 members and chapters in very state.

Small Businesses Owners: Raising Minimum Wage Makes Good Business Sense

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than 60 percent of small business owners with employees favor increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 in three stages, according to a new survey.

The poll, sponsored by the American Sustainable Business Council, an advocacy group that represents more  than 200,000 businesses and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, described on the group’s website as “a national network of business owners and executives who believe a fair minimum wage makes good business sense.”

The results from the poll conducted in June, showed that nearly 60 percent of small business owners say that raising the minimum wage would increase consumer purchasing power.

Blacks disproportionately work in low-wage jobs, accounting for 11 percent of the total labor force, but more than 14 percent of low-wage workers. Roughly 57 percent of low-wage workers are White.

More than half of those surveyed also agreed that “that with a higher minimum wage, businesses would benefit from lower employee turnover and increased productivity and customer satisfaction.”

Six percent of the business owners in the survey were Black and roughly 80 percent were White. Ninety-nine percent of all African American businesses don’t have any employees.

Sherry Stewart Deutschmann, founder and CEO of LetterLogic in Nashville, Tenn., said that because her employees earn well above the minimum wage, they have more money to spend with other businesses.

“With our starting wage of $12 my employees have more money to spend at other businesses. We don’t count on other businesses and taxpayers to subsidize our profits by underwriting food stamps and other safety net assistance for our employees,” said Deutschmann. “Why should I be subsidizing the profits of companies that pay wages their employees can’t live on? A minimum wage raise is overdue.”

The strongest support for raising the minimum wage came from respondents in the Northeast, where 67 percent of small business owners favored a higher wage. By contrast, less than 60 percent of small business owners in the South said they were in favor of an increase.

For proponents of a higher federal minimum wage, the poll results undercut the argument that raising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses.

Researchers have also dispelled that myth that many workers who get paid at or near the federal minimum wage are teenagers living at home and supported by their parents.

Low-wage workers are more educated than they were four decades ago (about 30 percent have some college experience) and older (less than 15 percent are teenagers).

Earlier this year, the AFL-CIO reported that, “More than 2.2 million single moms would benefit from raising the minimum wage. One out of four of the workers who would benefit—and 31% of the women workers who would benefit—are parents with children.”

A recent report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive, Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that the stagnated federal minimum wage presents barriers to economic mobility for two key demographics.

“First, slightly more than 47 percent of people earning the minimum wage or less are Millennials between the ages of 20 and 34,” said the report. “More than 39 percent of people earning the minimum wage are people of color.”

The report also noted that today the minimum wage at $7.25 is worth less now than it was 50 years ago when more than 250,000 Americans marched on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963.

“Unless there are significant policy changes, the rising population of young people of color will mature in a society that is not structured for their success,” said the report. “It is critically important that we address these issues now – before the inequality that disproportionately affects communities of color compromises our nation’s economic future.

Blacks Continue to Fight for Justice a Year After Zimmerman Verdict

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By D. Kevin McNeir
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The word stunned might best describe how U.S. citizens, particularly blacks, felt after hearing that a six-member jury, following two days of deliberation in a Florida courthouse last July, found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

One year later, with increased cases in which defendants have used the “stand your ground” law to avoid prosecution, civil rights leaders and activists have ramped up efforts to challenge a criminal justice system that often treats blacks and women as second-class citizens.

“Blacks seeking justice must continue with protests, pressure and patience,” said Benjamin Crump, the civil attorney for the Martin family. “We cannot ignore the realities that were unearthed in the wake of this still-shocking verdict – realities that exclude an honest and frank dialogue on race. Stand your ground is a broken doctrine of jurisprudence. It does not work in the same way for all Americans. A year passing may make things easier to ignore, but it does not mean they no longer exist,” said Crump, 44, a partner at the Tallahassee, Florida-based law firm of Parks & Crump, LLC.

Crump will join the parents of Trayvon, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and a host of celebrity guests on Saturday, July 19 for a Peace Walk and Peace Talk that will engage black youth and allow them to share their feelings about the February 26, 2012 murder of Trayvon and to discuss subsequent shootings of blacks allegedly targeted because of their clothing, hairstyles, musical predilections or skin color at the historic Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.

The shooting of one black youth, Jordan Davis, 17, serves as another high profile Florida case in which the shooter, a white man named Michael Dunn, 47, attempted to justify his actions saying he felt threatened after confronting Jordan and three other teens in their Dodge Durango outside of a convenience store on November 23, 2012. After complaining about the volume of their music, Dunn shot into the vehicle 10 times, with three bullets cutting through Jordan’s liver, a lung and his aorta.

“We now wait for the retrial of Michael Dunn for my son’s murder, but no matter what the jury decides I know it will be God’s ruling that has the final say,” said Lucia McBath, Jordan’s mother.

“If the murderers of Trayvon and Jordan could stand their ground why couldn’t our children? Black parents know that the rules are different and even though we try our best, we cannot protect them from laws that almost make it a crime to be black. We must go after the legislators who voted for stand your ground laws and get them out of office,” said McBath, who now serves as a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group of mothers from all 50 states formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Twenty-six states have enacted so-called stand your ground laws, including Georgia, Texas and Michigan, which remove the requirement to retreat before using force in self-defense. Florida passed the first such law in 2005, allowing people to stand their ground instead of retreating if they reasonably believe doing so will “prevent death or great bodily harm.” Other states followed with laws specifically affirming one’s right to defend themselves, even outside of their homes and with deadly force if necessary.

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