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Reversing the Alarming HIV Increase Among Black Gay Men, Part 1

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By Rod McCullom, Special to the NNPA from the Black AIDS Institute –

The first of a two-part series examining what can be done to reverse the high rates of new HIV infection among Black gay and bisexual men.

The number of new HIV cases in the United States has remained fairly stable at about 50,000 per year between 2006 and 2009, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published in early August in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Predictably, the epidemic continues to affect Black America disproportionately: Forty-four percent of all new infections occurred among African Americans, who make up only about 13 percent of the population. And gay and bisexual men, who make up only an estimated two percent of the population, accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009. Young Black gay and bi men--"men who have sex with men" (MSM), in public health jargon--ages 13 to 29 experienced the greatest increases, with infection rates skyrocketing by more than 48 percent.

But government researchers described the soaring seroconversions among young Black MSM as "alarming." "The data is not surprising because we've been talking about young Black gay and bisexual men for some time," says A. Cornelius Baker, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council HIV/AIDS (PACHA), the senior communications consultant at AED Center on AIDS & Community Health and board chair of the Black AIDS Institute. "Now we have an opportunity to make some progress with bold and comprehensive strategies."

Viral Loads "Off the Chart"?

It's unclear why seroconversions are increasing.

"It's not just individual risk behavior. It's probably behavior plus late testing practices," says David J. Malebranche, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on qualitative HIV behavioral prevention. "We see late testing across the Black community, such as in cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. Plus, the heightened stigma of HIV certainly delays testing."

Experts estimate that African Americans make up 56 percent of all "late testers"--people who learn of their positive HIV serostatus so far along in their illness that the disease progresses to AIDS within one year of diagnosis. "That means their viral loads are off the charts," Dr. Malebranche adds. The presence of high amounts of HIV in the body makes a person significantly more infectious.

Once people become aware of their HIV-positive status, not only are they more likely to take steps such as using condoms to avoid infecting their sexual partners, but research now shows that beginning treatment soon after diagnosis makes people with HIV/AIDS significantly less infectious.

But Black HIV-positive gay and bi men are least likely of all MSM to be aware of their serostatus. Among HIV-positive Black MSM under age 30, 71 percent were previously unaware of their infection. So not only does their own disease progress unimpeded, but they may unknowingly pass HIV to others.

"We also have higher rates of STDs that can lead to higher risk for HIV," says Dr. Malebranche. "We have to look at sexual networks among Black gay men, especially in Black gay enclaves in large urban centers and rural areas. We tend to sexually partner with each other more so than other races." A significant body of research has shown that sexual networks can play a critical role in facilitating the spread of STDs, including HIV.

The apparent rise in new HIV infections could also reflect the success of recent efforts to aggressively test Black gay men, rather than an increase in new infections themselves, Dr. Malebranche adds.

New CDC-Sponsored Social-Marketing Campaign Targets Black MSM

For years HIV/AIDS activists have criticized the CDC for responding inadequately to persistently high increases in new infections among Black MSM. Today, however, the CDC is receiving high marks for a new social-marketing and public-awareness campaign to encourage HIV testing among Black MSM. The campaign, titled Testing Makes Us Stronger, debuted in August at the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta and will officially launch on Sept. 27 in Atlanta, Houston, New York, Baltimore and Oakland, Calif.

The new data "underscores the urgency of reaching young Black men who have sex with men," Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, told reporters during a telebriefing. "We cannot allow the health of a new generation of young Black gay and bisexual men to be lost to essentially preventable diseases."

The testing message is a critical component of the new campaign.

"Knowing one's status is important in order to get medical care and treatment for their infection," says Richard Wolitski, a deputy director in the CDC's HIV/AIDS Prevention Division. "The CDC has shown that people who know their status engage in behaviors that significantly reduce risk for others of contracting HIV."

"Testing Makes Us Stronger builds on the strengths of young Black gay and bisexual men," adds Wolitski. "We wanted to show Black gay couples who are loving and supportive and, at the same time, document a diverse range of strong men in [the] community."

The program will include transit, magazine and online advertising--and outreach across Facebook, Twitter, blogs and "hookup" websites popular with Black MSM.

"The young men we are targeting are on these sites," says Daniel Driffin, a 25-year-old prevention specialist at the Atlanta-based National AIDS & Education Services for Minorities. "It makes perfect sense for [the] CDC to be there--especially because the first place many men [my age] get information is [the] Internet."

Kali Lindsey, the 30-year-old senior director of federal policy at Harlem United, was part of a CDC advisory group on the messaging. "The process was refreshing. They brought in about 19 or 20 of us who had expertise in delivering messages to Black gay men," he says.

Venton Jones, senior program associate for communications at the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition, also participated in the work group. "It's great that [the] CDC took our responses and made sure that the campaign portrayed the diversity of images of Black gay men," says the 27-year-old about the photography of the critically acclaimed Duane Cramer, a San Francisco-based Black gay photographer who snapped a variety of Black men for the campaign. "One or two images cannot fully represent who we are," Jones adds.

"The campaign is a step in the right direction to raise awareness in the community," says Harlem United's Lindsey, and "to encourage dialogue to where people are regularly engaging in conversations about HIV."

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, The Advocate, ColorLines and other media. Rod blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.

African-American Poverty Rates Highest In Four Years

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Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

For a fourth year in a row, the African-American poverty rate more than doubled that of non-Hispanic white Americans, according to 2010 data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. At 27.4 percent, the African-American poverty rate also nearly doubled the overall U.S. poverty rate - 15.1 percent.

"The figures are both startling and very telling," said Rev. Derrick Boykin, associate for African-American Leadership Outreach at Bread for the World. "That the African-American poverty rate is twice as high as the poverty rate for whites reveals that African-Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from social injustices."

African-American children suffered from poverty at an even higher rate - 39.1 percent. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released annual food insecurity data revealing that 25.1 percent of African-Americans were reported hungry in 2010. Widespread and prolonged unemployment, among other factors, contributed to these high figures. At the same time, real median household income for African-Americans declined to $32,068 in 2010-less than two-thirds the real median income of white households.

Accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would show 5.4 million fewer people - including 3 million children - living in poverty. The figures would have been much higher without federally funded safety net programs which help keep poverty and food insecurity numbers down as families work to get on their feet. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction - or "Super Committee" - met recently to determine how to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit. The committee must identify $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reductions, and funding is at risk for federal safety - net programs that helped many Americans offset the ongoing impacts of the recession and stay out of poverty last year.

"If it weren't for safety net programs like WIC, SNAP, and others, many more African-American households would be suffering," added Boykin. "We urge the Super Committee to consider other alternatives to cutting programs that support vulnerable people as lawmakers work to reduce our nation's deficit."

Equally alarming, the Census Bureau report also revealed that the Hispanic poverty rate increased to 26.6 percent, up from 25.3 percent in 2009. The poverty rate for Hispanic children increased to 35 percent.

Taped Interview Discloses Jackie Kennedy's Opinion of MLK - 'That Man's Terrible'

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Later Became a Tremendous Admirer, According to Caroline Kennedy

Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy held a low opinion of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., calling him “phony” and “tricky” and alleging that King mocked the funeral of her slain husband, President John F. Kennedy.

The remarks came in a series of interviews the first lady gave in the 1960s which will be part of a new book and set of audio CDs to be released in mid-September.

According to ABC News, which obtained tapes of the interviews, Kennedy said she was disgusted by FBI wire taps which allegedly detailed King’s attempts to set up a hotel orgy while in Washington for his historic August 1963 march and, at another point, his affair with another woman in a hotel.

Kennedy claimed King also cracked jokes about the funeral of her assassinated husband, and its officiate, Cardinal Richard Cushing.

“He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and said he was drunk at it,” Kennedy recounted, according to The New York Daily News. “And things about [how] they almost dropped the coffin. I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, ‘That man's terrible.’”

However, Kennedy’s opinion later changed, as she became friendly enough with King and his family to attend his own 1968 funeral.

“If you asked her what she thought of Martin Luther King overall… she admired him tremendously,” Caroline Kennedy, the first lady’s daughter, told ABC.

“Obviously, J. Edgar Hoover had passed on something that Martin Luther King said about my father’s funeral, to Uncle Bobby and to Mommy. And obviously, she was upset about that,” Caroline Kennedy added. “It shows you the poisonous … activities of J. Edgar Hoover.”

Rep. Davis Legislation Looks at Disparities Facing African-Americans

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Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis, recently sponsored and got passed state legislation that would study the plight of African Americans in this state.

PA 97-0460 authorizes the assembly of a Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African American Community Act to look at health, employment criminal justice, education and other issues besetting African American Illinoisans. The commission would be empowered to make suggestions on how to make things better after holding at least one public hearing. It would report to the General Assembly on its findings and recommendations by December 31, 2013, the new law - signed by Gov. Quinn - mandates.

Davis told the Defender that the legislation was necessary because, “conditions are not being addressed that affect my community.” When it comes to reports on various issues, she said African Americans are usually on the negative end of the outcomes.

“Every statistic that's ever given, if it it's something good we're at the bottom, if it's something bad we're at the top,” she said. “This does not have to be the case.”

'White Folks Forcing Us Out' say Chicago Housing Authority Residents

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

Black residents living at the Cabrini Green public housing complex cite racism as the main reason their landlord is evicting them. “White folks are forcing us out. They do not want us here anymore,” contended Norina Rhondes, 37, who was born and raised at Cabrini Green.”

The mother of a 19-year-old son, who is a sophomore at Southern Illinois University, and a 14-ear-old son, who is a freshman at Phoenix Military Academy in Chicago, Rhodes added that she sees her white neighbors stare down from their balconies shaking their heads. “They sit high but look low on us Black folks thinking they are better than us because they have money. One white man had the nerve to drive through here one day, get out his car and said to a group of Black males ‘you guys have been sitting out here all day. Why don’t you go do something productive like get a job,’’ recalled Rhodes, who plans to attend Malcolm X College in January.

The majority of the residents are Black. Race had nothing to do with the evictions, said Chicago Housing Authority officials. They cited crime as the reason at the 73-year-old housing complex at 900 N. Hudson Ave., which spans five blocks. “The levels and nature of criminal activity continue to pose a real threat to the residents of the area, but it is a particularly disturbing threat due to the significant number of children in the old section of row houses,” said Carlos Ponce, interim chief executive officer for the CHA. “This Authority must do what’s right and vacate the property. CHA will take great care in making the transition as smooth and as comfortable as possible for the remaining families.”

According to Matthew Aguilar, a spokesman for the CHA, the non-rehabbed portion of the row houses includes 438 units with only 33 occupied, creating a 92 percent vacancy rate. And the rehabbed portion of the site includes 146 units that were rehabbed two years ago, so those living in these units do not have to relocate. Significant resources have been put towards maintaining the safety of the property, but in spite of these efforts, based on the current data, it was determined that the old sections of the row houses were dangerous and no longer suitable for residents, Aguilar said. Maureen Biggane, a Chicago Police Department spokeswoman was unavailable at Crusader press time to verify the CHA’s contention of recent criminal activity at Cabrini Green.

The CHA plans to provide housing counseling and help residents find new housing using a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly called a Section 8 certificate). The Crusader spent all day Tuesday at Cabrini Green, which is surrounded by expensive looking townhomes and condominiums and high-rise office buildings located just north of Chicago Avenue, and witnessed no criminal activity during the day or late at night. Most residents seemed to know one another and stood outside talking while children played and youth kept busy playing basketball at an outdoor court on Hudson Avenue.

Residents gave the Crusader a tour of the rehabbed and old row houses. The rehabbed units included new doors, windows, floors, freshly painted walls, and fine woodwork; while the old row houses had cracked and dirty walls, broken windows, old appliances, and dim light fixtures inside.

Wanda White, 45, of 847 N. Mohawk Avenue, said developers are tired of waiting for what it deems prime real estate. “Developers want this land so they can build condos. The whites that live around here are tired of looking at us and are pressuring the city to get us the hell out,” she said. “They along with whites are tired of waiting and want us out.” White is among the 33 households that were informed by the CHA September 1 that they must move within 180 days. Tamekia Murray, is a 25-year-old single mom, who is White’s niece and lives with her along with her 2 year-old son Rashad. She has been trying for three years to get approved for her own CHA unit but continues to be denied.

“First they said I needed an income. And now that I have one, they are coming up with more excuses,” she said. Unemployed and a single mother as well, White said she is unsure where she will move. But one thing she said she does know is that Cabrini Green does not have an issue with violence. “They (CHA) are lying. Police would be rolling all up and down here if it were as bad as the media has portrayed it. When was the last time you heard on TV an incident occurring here?” she said.

At its peak Cabrini Green housed 15,000 people and in 1980 Mayor Jane Byrne moved into the complex to see first-hand what life was like there.

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