Saturday, December 1, 2007 is World AIDS Day. The column below was penned by my friend Gil Robertson IV, author of The Robertson Treatment.
My name is Gil Robertson IV, editor of the bestselling, landmark anthology Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community. Up until the release of my most recent book, I spent over a decade as an A&E journalist reporting on popular trends, events and personalities that populate the entertainment industry. However, in the summer of 2005, I became committed to writing about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which by then had already gained a solid foothold within the African American community, including my own family, with my brother living with the disease. So I decided to write a book that would highlight my family’s story, which I hoped would offer a measure of support and comfort to other families living in the shadows of this disease. However, as my idea developed, it quickly evolved to include other stories -- resulting in Not in My Family’s 58 essays from a wide-cross section of people sharing how HIV/AIDS has influenced and reshaped their lives.
Not in My Family was released last year on World AIDS Day, and since its publication, I have toured America extensively connecting with members of the black community on a variety of different issues involved with this disease. Away from wearing red-ribbons, never-ending conferences and stagy speeches, my experience with this book has created an opportunity for me to engage with black people – up close, personal and for a real understanding about how we can begin as a community to effectively deal with this issue.
A year later, I have come away with a lot of confidence about how deeply African American's care for their brethren. The problem is that a vast majority in the black community are confused and unsure about what they can do. Faced with overwhelming challenges coming from all directions, has left our community beleaguered and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and numerous other social ills.
So what do we do about HIV/AIDS? Well for starters, African Americans need to get honest and real about the fact that as sexual animals, we’re all susceptible to the disease. The finger pointing must end. We also must do away with our fear, prejudice and denial over sex and sexuality, and accept the fact that this is not a gay disease, (homosexuals were the most visible and vocal community affected by this disease), but this disease has never been exclusive to any one group of people. The African American community must drop all the falsehoods and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. Many of us thought this disease would never touch our population in a significant way, but it has and is not going anywhere until we change our behavior and attitudes.
African Americans must develop the will and confidence to demand a change from the US government, business community and medical institutions in terms of an aggressive response to this crisis. As citizens of a nation with the assets to land a man on the moon and finance wars on terror, African Americans should insist on nothing less than full engagement with regards to the federal support to solving the HIV/AIDS crisis in black communities. African Americans must be mindful of their contributions to America and the rest of the world. We must also remember what we are; the descendants of people who had the strength and resiliency to overcome Middle Passage, Slavery and Racial Discrimination. In other words, we’re not asking for anything, but simply demanding to get the best support and treatment that we deserve.
On our own, it’s time for African Americans to accept responsibility and become accountable for how HIV/AIDS has spread within our families, neighborhoods and communities. We must move beyond having conversations about this problem and get busy with implementing the actual work for removing this disease out of our space. After connecting with some many of you during the past year I know that the black community has what it takes to get things done and that if we can come together, HIV/AIDS will be nothing but a bad, bad dream.
- Gil Robertson IV