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The Fight Against HIV/AIDS…Why Sitting at the Table Matters

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By Michael Hinson and Lisa Fager Bediako
Special to the NNPA from the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative –

After 30 years of the HIV pandemic, one might think that terms such as “community collaboration” and “community participation” would be commonplace among those fighting the disease. But in many communities across the country, this is not the case. In fact, the clock seems to be rolling back to the early days, when the opinions and actions of a small minority marginalized the voices of those who were most impacted by the global pandemic.

Make no mistake: many people are indeed living longer with HIV disease as a result of improved treatments. But with all of the dynamic shifts in HIV treatment, prevention, and policy, it is especially disheartening – and, we would say, dangerous – that women, Black gay men, people of color, heterosexual men, transgender individuals and, most notably, Black organizations still must fight to be heard by the decision makers who develop, implement, and allocate funding for HIV-related policies and programs.

We all know the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Blacks represent approximately 14% of the US population, but accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2009. Over the same period, the rate of new HIV infections among Black women was 15 times that of White women, and over 3 times the rate of Hispanic/Latina women. At some point in their lives, approximately 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection, many of whom will be Black gay men, as will 1 in 32 Black women.

Furthermore, Latinos represented 16% of the population but accounted for 20% of new HIV infections in 2009. In 2009, the estimated rate of new HIV infections among Latinos was 2.5 times that for White men; for Latinas, the rate was 4.5 times that for white women.

Black transgender women are more likely to become newly infected with HIV and studies have shown that infection rates for transgender women of all races range from 11.8% to 27.7%.

Given these statistics, why are there not more Blacks, Latino/as, or transgender individuals involved in decision-making processes about HIV-related policies and programs? Does it even matter? We contend that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

When the Philadelphia Health Department recently decided to cut much of its HIV/AIDS prevention programs, organizations serving people of color were hardest hit. As a letter to the Philadelphia Health Commissioner sent by the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council indicated, the decision failed to appreciate the cultural capital that community-based organizations bring to the health milieu in order to create change. Had people from those communities been at the table, perhaps a different decision might have been reached – especially one without negative repercussions for those most affected.

There are, perhaps, many reasons why this marginalization occurs, but the primary question remains “where are our voices?” If we, decision makers, communities members, elected/appointed officials, organizations, individuals and communities are ever going to end this disease we must revisit the issues of representation, inclusion and parity among decision makers. We must answer the question, “who is not at the table, and if they are at the table are their voices being heard and experiences being honored.”

However, we can’t arrive at the table empty-handed. The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA), a partnership of more than 25 national and local organizations, recommends the following as part of a comprehensive strategy for reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS: expanding the availability of HIV testing; implementing a national media outreach campaign focusing on people of color; directing HIV prevention and testing activities to those at highest risk; providing adequate funding, technical assistance, capacity building, and infrastructure development to Black and other minority-led organizations; prioritizing effective and evidence-based programs and interventions; and combining prevention approaches.

As we commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Day on February 7th, we should remember that any significant, long-lasting progress that will be made towards stemming the impact of this disease is intricately tied to our ability to have seats at the decision-making table.


Michael Hinson is the Director of Policy and Programs for the International Federation of Black Prides in Washington, DC and directs its Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative Project.

Lisa Fager Bediako is Project Director, Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.

The Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, is a $16 million, six-year partnership between CDC and 19 of nation’s leading civil rights and social justice organizations formed to conduct a wide range of communication, mobilization, action and educational activities among communities hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.

NAACP and Others File Court Brief Supporting Health Care Reform

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Last Friday, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court expressing their support for the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

According to the brief, the organizations argue that the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional and advances equal opportunity for many of America’s disadvantaged.

In the Department of Health & Human Services v. Florida brief, the groups state, “In our modern, integrated and dynamic health care system, personal choices have consequences that extend far beyond the individual. The economic decision to forego health insurance, therefore, is not neutral; rather, such a decision, when aggregated across our national population, both limits the personal liberty of others to choose health insurance and has the effect of reinforcing harsh economic and social disparities that threaten our country’s democratic foundation and the cohesion of our society.”

LDF President and Director-Counsel John Payton agreed with Washington taking mandating citizen inclusion in the system. “Congress not only was well within its power to enact this important law, it was right to do so,” Payton said in a statement. “The severe racial inequality in our health care system threatens the ability of African-Americans to participate fully in the life of our nation and also undermines the health of our country’s democracy.”

In the brief, the groups mention that they believe that the inability to obtain access to health care limits the personal liberty of people to simply live healthy lives and that it is imperative that the government work to make the lives of the people they serve better.

The organizations also hope to remind the courts and the American people that the poor aren’t to blame for their situation and the results in the dice roll of life could have easily gone against their favor.

“Across our country, uninsured persons experience significant hardship that has a profound cumulative impact on our nation,” the brief states. “Because they are less likely to obtain adequate, stable health care, the uninsured suffer many lost opportunities, which depresses both the quality and the longevity of their lives. These burdens are disproportionately borne by racial and ethnic minorities, lower-income persons and other disadvantaged persons.

“For many individuals, being uninsured is not a choice but rather is a consequence that is imposed on them due to circumstances largely beyond their control.”

California Initiative Would Reform Three Strikes Law

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By Charlene Muhammad, National Correspondent
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Loved ones of inmates serving life sentences are gathering petition signatures for an initiative they believe will finally reform California’s draconian Three Strikes law, which means a life sentence once someone is convicted of three felony crimes.

Voters passed Three Strikes in 1994, aiming to imprison very violent felons like murderers, rapists and child molesters for life. Today, more than 4,000 people are incarcerated under Three Strikes, and more than half of them have committed non-violent, non-serious crimes, according to the Stanford Three Strikes Project.

Stanford Law School professors drafted the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 to amend the law and require a third strike be a violent, serious crime in order to garner a sentence of 25 years to life. Currently, anyone convicted of any felony, even minor nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting or drug possession, can be sentenced to life if they have two prior felony convictions.

“The majority of our loved ones will likely be able to come out and it will also ensure in the future that nobody will get a life sentence for a minor offense,” said Geri Silva, executive director of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law. She is collecting signatures to get the initiative on the ballot later this year. She feels the change is a good step forward but warns there’s work to be done.

Supporters need 500,000 signatures by April to put the measure before voters in November. Passage would mean new convictions would receive double the ordinary sentence instead of a life sentence. It wouldn’t mean automatic release from prison, rather inmates serving life sentences for minor crimes would apply for re-sentencing under a judge’s review.

However, anyone ever convicted of an extremely violent crime, such as rape, murder, or child molestation, would receive life sentences, no matter how minor their third strike crime, explained Dan Newman of the Stanford Three Strikes Project.

Dorothy Erskine, a member of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law, is thankful that the Stanford Three Strikes Project has taken the issue on. She is a little disappointed that the measure excludes unoccupied house burglary from its list of non-violent crimes.

Her nephew, Brian Smith, has been in prison since 1994, serving a life sentence for aiding and abetting shoplifting.

“He may or may not have been guilty of aiding and abetting but I just feel like the time should fit the crime,” she said.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 54 percent of Three Strikes inmates were sentenced to life for non-violent crimes and Blacks represent 45 percent of Three Strikes inmates.

Opponents of Three Strikes sought reform through Proposition 66 in 2004. It would have amended the law to apply only to violent felonies and permit re-sentencing. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s non-partisan fiscal and policy advisor, voters overwhelmingly supported the proposition, which would have saved several hundred million dollars annually, primarily in the prison system.

A poll placed Proposition 66 ahead by 68 percent a month before November 2004 elections. In a last-ditch campaign blitz, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger invoked voters’ fears through TV ads claiming 26,000 hardened criminals, like murderers and rapists, would be freed from prison, if the referendum passed.

Proposition 66 was defeated. The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 is another opportunity to turn things around through the political system, Ms. Erskine said warily. During the fight for Proposition 66, many state representatives felt the law was unjust but also felt it was political suicide to try to change it, she said.

Three Strikes’ opponents are prepared for the uphill battle, Ms. Erskine said.

“Even with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’m sure that people realized many, many, many years before how unjust it was because of your color, you’ve got to sit at the back of the bus but look how long it took to really materialize,” Ms. Erskine said.

According to The Field Poll, an independent, non-partisan survey by Field Research Corporation, 74 percent of likely voters support reforming the Three Strikes law in light of California’s prison overcrowding crisis.

“I think the people of California can see through what is happening and realize that the prisons are overcrowded to begin with. They’re spending $50,000 per person a year to keep people incarcerated and as they grow older, that amount escalates to sometimes at least $80,000. Something needs to be done,” Ms. Erskine said.

Black Clergy Igniting Support for HBCU Equality Lawsuit

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By Alexis Taylor, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

In keeping with the tradition of fighting for and supporting historical Black universities and colleges (HBCU), leaders and members of local Black churches crowded into courtroom 7D of the Garmatz Federal Courthouse Jan. 24 to show support for the ongoing Maryland HBCU Equality Lawsuit.

“Silence is betrayal,” said the Rev. Errol D. Gilliard, pastor of Greater Harvest Baptist Church, expressing the reason it is so important for not only the church, but African Americans in every field to rally behind the case. “There is a new form of white supremacy and the Black church needs to be in the fight.”

With few African-American politicians taking a public stance in support of the case, pastors, ministers, and alumni of the HBCUs gathered to show that even weeks into the case, support is still growing. “It is a great injustice to the constituency that put them in office for our Black politicians alone to practice such field plantation politics,” said Rev. Gilliard, in reference to the sheer dearth of public support for the case from African American elected officials.

Begun on Jan. 3, the case, which is set to last six weeks, was brought by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) and was originally filed in October 2006. Claiming a system of de jure segregation, or segregation by law, as the key factor in disparities between the four HBCU’s in Maryland and their white counterparts, Bowie State University (BSU), Coppin State University (CSU), Morgan State University (MSU), and University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES) are seeking $2.1 billion in damages to invest in the institutions that currently lack funding and struggle to operate at their full potential.

“The Black church has always stood by to give the life-blood shot that is needed,” said the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. A.C.D. Vaughn explaining the reason it is imperative for those in ministry to support the cause of Maryland’s HBCUs and those across the country.

Begun in 1867, Morgan State University, like many HBCUs, has roots intertwined deeply with the Black church as it began as the Centenary Biblical Institute, where freed male slaves were trained to become ministers of the gospel.

“It is critical that states be made to step up to the plate and fund these institutions at an appropriate level because it is not only legally required it is the right thing to do,” said A. Recardo Perry, emeritus vice-president of student affairs at Morgan State University.

Alumni and staff from CSU and MSU could be seen paying close attention to the testimonies before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake, as they remembered their own days at underfunded HBCUs with insufficient textbooks and facilities.

“This should not just be supported by Black people but by Whites who are interested in a level playing field,” said Dr. Kenneth Morgan, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies for Coppin State University. A graduate of Temple University, Dr. Morgan said everyone should “read the case and understand what the issue is,” then become involved directly or indirectly.

“We are not victims,” said Dr. Morgan, “but in order for us to succeed, we have to organize and make our voices known.”

In addition to addressing financial issues, the case will also take on the blind eye turned to duplicate programming, which routinely draws students away from HBCUs when traditionally white institutions in the same area (TWIs) offer the same special degree programs.

Taking the stand Jan. 24, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system, offered explanations as to why the duplication of the specialty programs, such as the MSU Masters of Business Administration, were allowed at nearby TWIs such as Towson University and University of Baltimore.

“It’s certainly a different version than what we know to be the facts. The documents that relate to the MBA say that it is quite different from the presentation that Dr. Kirwan made. I’m sure he just didn’t recall certain facts and made mistakes,” said Dr. Earl Richardson, in response to the testimony of Dr. Kirwan. President of Morgan State University, from 1984 to 2010, Dr. Richardson oversaw major transformations of the northeast Baltimore campus and understands first hand not only the problems with underfunding, but program duplication by nearby universities.

“It’s the same old excuses we’ve been dealing with for thirty years. When you don’t mean to do right, it’s easy to make excuses,” said Rev. Vaughn.

“Our concern is real equity for all of the schools. When you look at taxes, the same amount is taken from the White schools as the Black schools,” said Rev. Vaughn, who says even though Coppin and Morgan State are geographically easily accessible in Baltimore, program duplication from TWIs incites students to travel much further unnecessarily.

Program duplication became one of many official indicators of a segregated university system with the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992). The case that focused on Mississippi’s de jure segregation of colleges and universities, set precedents for the entire country with its ruling.

After Attacks, Malawi President Retracts Negative View of Women in Pants

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By Fungai Maboreke, Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has stepped back from remarks earlier this month criticizing women for wearing pants or miniskirts. The remarks triggered an outbreak of beatings and of tearing clothes off women over their choice of attire.

In a 15 minute national address, President Mutharika condemned the recent attacks on women mainly by vendors who claimed that the President had ordered it.

“Women who want to wear trousers should do so as you will be protected from thugs, vendors and terrorists,” the president said in a local language, Chichewa. “I will not allow anyone to go on the streets and start undressing women and girls wearing trousers because that is criminal.”

On Friday, Jan. 20, hundreds of girls and women, among them prominent politicians, protested the attacks while wearing pants or miniskirts and T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as: “Real men don’t harass women.” A recording of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” got a loud cheer when it was played during the protest. Men also took part.

Even the President’s VP chimed in with support for the protestors. “Some of us have spent our entire life fighting for the freedom of women,” Vice President Joyce Banda told the protesters. “It’s shocking some men want to take us back to bondage.”

During the reign of Malawi’s first President Kamuzu Banda, women were not allowed to wear trousers and miniskirts until 1993 when Kamuzu was about to leave power.

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