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20 Years after Magic – HIV/AIDS is Still an Issue

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

Hall of Fame basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson brought his HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to Chicago this week to celebrate the 20 years he has lived with the deadly disease. And although Johnson did not come to Chicago his presence was felt loud and clear at a South Side Walgreens where free HIV testing took place.

Charles Jenkins, 56, said he is a regular customer at Walgreens, 11 E. 75th St., so it only made sense to get tested while there. “I’m an old man now but back in my younger years I was a ‘player.’ I slept with my fair share of women and did not always use condoms,” he recalled. “Back then AIDS was not considered a big deal because mainly gay men had the disease. Every year I get tested just to be on the safe side. And like every year since I started getting tested five years ago, this was a good year because I am HIV negative.”

Free education about HIV/AIDS was what attracted Oliva Barber, 19. “I want to know as much as I can about HIV because it has hit my generation hard,” she said. “I have not made a habit of sleeping around but I have had unprotected sex before. And it is for that reason I came here to get tested and educated more about the disease.” On Monday the National Basketball Association’s all-time assist leader simultaneously kicked off a 16-city, HIV/AIDS awareness campaign called Point Forward Day, which is sponsored by the entrepreneur’s Magic Johnson Foundation.

From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Walgreens provided free testing by taking a mouth sample from participants who were able to get their results back in 20-minutes, said Carlos Meyers, executive director of Beyond Care Inc., a Chicago, non-profit social service organization, which administered the free HIV tests. The goal, said Meyers, was to test up to 500 people. “We are not there yet but getting there,” added Meyers. “I would say about 60 percent of the 300 people we have tested so far were middle-class, Black women. I hope before we finish we get more Black men and youth tested because those two groups usually do not get tested enough to know if they have been infected.”

At Crusader press time, no one had tested HIV positive. And counselors were on hand to assist anyone whose results were positive.

The MJF arranged for free testing from the West Coast to the East Coast in predominately minority communities where HIV education and testing is needed the most, said Amelia William-son, interim president of the Magic Johnson Foundation.

“It is time for the Magic Johnson Foundation to communicate the impact we have had in urban communities across the US. Point Forward Day is about getting involved and giving back like Magic has done,” Williamson said. “It is time for all of us to stop spectating and start doing! Through our continued work in educational empowerment, it is our hope to cyclically cultivate, inspire and help to achieve self sufficiency in underserved communities.”

Besides Chicago, other cities that participated in the Point Forward Day were Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans. In 1991, Johnson, a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, shocked the world when he announced he had tested HIV positive. “Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today. I just want to make it clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease,” he said during an emotional news conference. In Chicago, Blacks are disproportionately affected by HIV, according to the city’s Health Department. Additionally, city health officials said Blacks represent only 36 percent of the city’s population yet account for 55 percent of recently diagnosed HIV infections. Of the 22,650 people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, 54 percent are Black, 27 percent are White, 16 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are of another race.

Nationally, the problem is much worse. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at the end of 2010, more than 1.1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV infection in American and HIV continues to be a leading cause of death. In 2005, HIV was the fifth leading cause of death among people aged 35 to 44. The impact is greater on Blacks and Hispanics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV was the third leading cause of death for Blacks aged 35 to 44, the fourth leading cause for Hispanics 35 to 44 and the fifth leading cause of death for Whites 25 to 44.

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