HIV and AIDS has ravaged many in the black community with young black men and women being infected with the disease at an alarming rate. But while many community organizations have been taking on the fight to educate African Americans about the disease, one major force has been eerily silent: the black church.
To combat this deadly silence, the NAACP joined forces with several black ministers to create a manual for church leaders to help discuss the HIV epidemic with their parishioners. The result? A 61-page activity manual churches can use to encourage their members to protect themselves against the disease.
Shavon Arline-Bradley, director of health programs for the NAACP who helped oversee the manual’s creation, said it makes sense for the nation’s largest civil rights organization to be involved in the discussion of HIV and AIDS.
“People look at us as just civil rights, and what they’re missing is that health is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time,” Arline-Bradley said.
Religious leaders who helped with the manual said black churches have been reluctant to talk about the disease. That’s in part because the topic is wrapped up with sex and homosexuality, often taboo topics in the church.
“Sex is not something church people like to talk about. It’s something they like to do,” said the Rev. Joseph Smith, assistant to the pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and one of the people who worked on the manual.
Despite the squeamishness, the NAACP says black churches can play a role in combating the alarming impact of HIV on the black community. African Americans make up almost half of all new HIV infections, and blacks are less likely to get treatment and more likely to die of complications from AIDS than any other race.
Sheridan Todd Yeary, a Baltimore pastor who helped with the manual, said he believes the NAACP’s involvement in the project will reassure some leaders that talking about HIV and AIDS is OK. He compared the organization’s approval to the “Good Housekeeping Seal” of approval for household products.
While many will wonder what took black church leaders so long to begin discussing this disease with their congregations, I’m glad many are realizing the need to not only care for their members’ souls, but also their health.
What do you think of the NAACP’s new HIV initiative? Will it help?
*For more information, visit TheBlackChutchandHIV.org