A national organization trying to bring attention to the disproportionate toll that AIDS takes on black women in the U.S. made Baton Rouge its first stop in a regional tour last month.
The “Southern Women Matter! Engagement for Action Tour” stopped here and then went on to Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta.
The tour was created by the New York-based National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, which is bringing it to women in the South first, with plans to take it to other regions of the country in the future.
This year, for the second consecutive year, the Baton Rouge metropolitan area ranked second in the nation in the rate of AIDS cases, according to 2009 data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Miami was ranked first in the rate of AIDS cases.
The black community has been especially hard-hit by the disease.
Black Americans make up 12 percent of the population but almost half of the new HIV and AIDS cases in the country, according to the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For black women in the U.S., the numbers are extraordinarily high.
“AIDS is the third leading cause of death for black women ages 24 to 44,” said C. Virginia Fields, president and chief executive officer of the commission, the nation’s oldest black HIV/AIDS organization.
“Black women account for 61 percent of new HIV infections and 66 percent of new AIDS cases among all women,” according to a news release from the commission.
“We’re here to say it’s up to us … We know that with HIV/AIDS there is no cure, but it can be prevented,” Fields said.
The centerpiece of the tour’s stop in Baton Rouge was the video, “Many Women, One Voice: African American Women and HIV.”
On the video, black women from across the country and from all walks of life, share their personal experiences and knowledge. Many of the women are HIV-positive or have AIDS.
Some of their remarks on the video:
• “I was a professional woman, in love with a man.”
• “I was in a relationship for five years. He got pneumonia. I felt in my heart it wasn’t a regular cold.”
• “I met him at church.”
• “I was a mother of four, a hairstylist.”
• “I don’t want you to look at me and think we’re different, that we’re worlds apart, because we’re not.”
• “If you’re negative (for HIV), stay negative. If you’re positive, get into treatment and protect yourself.”
The video calls on women to have those sometimes-difficult conversations with their partners about HIV testing and about the use of condoms.
Representatives of such organizations as the Greater Baton Rouge Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Women with a Vision, New Orleans; N’R Peace Inc., also of New Orleans, which promotes HIV testing; and representatives of the state Office of Public Health’s Sexually Transmitted Disease/HIV program attended the tour event held July 18 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Baton Rouge.
The tour’s stop here was hosted by the local nonprofit organization, Aspirations, a youth organization that promotes AIDS education and prevention, with the help of a grant from the Flowers Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit based in California that works to improve the lives of the underserved.
For more information on the tour and video, visit the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, at http://www.nblca.org.