For generations, the black church has been a refuge for African Americans, giving our communities a voice to address the social justice challenges that afflict us, including voting rights and employment opportunities. Today, we need the church to help us face another social injustice.
Although black Americans make up only 12 percent of the United States population, we account for 40 percent of all people living with HIV and 44 percent of all new diagnoses. That’s much more than any other race.
Now more than ever, we need the voices of our faith leaders to inspire change and action. The southern region of the U.S. has particularly high rates of new HIV cases, and in 2015, African Americans accounted for 54 percent of all new diagnoses in the South. Additionally, according to a 2015 CDC report, black women are three times more likely to be affected by HIV than white women, and black youth are 12 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white youth. Our young people are paying the price for this epidemic, as another CDC report found that young Black men who have sex with men accounted for more new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. than any other subgroup.
As visualized by AIDSVu.org, the death rate in 2015 among our brothers and sisters diagnosed with HIV continues to be significantly higher than that of any other race. There is no justice in these statistics, and faith leaders in our communities must harness their faith and power to unite in ending this inequity.
Today, 75 percent of Black Americans say religion plays an important role in their lives, according to the Pew Research Center. To end HIV and its disparaging impact on African Americans, we need leaders to come together to raise awareness of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. The words of one faith leader have the power to engender action that can impact thousands of lives.
For these reasons, 'The Black Church & HIV' initiative was formed as a partnership between the NAACP and Gilead Sciences to develop a national network of faith leaders, religious institutions and community members committed to turning the tide of the HIV epidemic. We work to empower faith leaders across the nation to serve as the change agents our communities need to end the HIV epidemic in America. As the initiative moves through its last year, we reflect on the power of faith leaders and encourage them to take on the challenge of addressing HIV, especially this upcoming Day of Unity.
The day of unity calls upon faith leaders nationwide to come together in preaching about the disparate impact of HIV on African Americans. On this day, we encourage faith leaders to share resources, elevate the conversation on their social platforms, and raise awareness in their houses of worship. Together, we can help those living with HIV and stop the disease’s proliferation. This work exposes challenging issues for individuals and the faith community; however, our faith clearly calls us to embrace our duty to deliver justice and defend the oppressed. Join the movement on July 15 as faith leaders across the country unite to press forward for the systemic change Black America needs to eliminate HIV.
More than 160 faith leaders across the nation have already committed to participate in this day of unity, and I encourage you to join us too. Please visit theblackchurchandhiv.org/day-of-unity to sign up and commit to preach about HIV as a social justice issue on July 15. The challenge we face in the HIV epidemic is difficult, but it is not insurmountable. Let’s work together in faith. Commit today.
Dr. Marjorie Innocent serves as the Senior Director of Health Programs at the NAACP and is responsible for the management of the NAACP’s policy and programmatic agenda to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for African Americans and other communities of color. For more information on health workshops and programs at our 109th National Convention, visit NAACPConvention.org or contact: Malik Russell, director of communications, firstname.lastname@example.org, 410-580-5761 (office).