A Look at the Effect of HIV/AIDS on Black Youth
ED GORDON, host:
Young people under the age of 25 reportedly account for half of all HIV infections, new ones, each year, and African-Americans make up more than half of those cases. That's a major concern for TV Judge Glenda Hatchett. Tomorrow on her nationally syndicated television program, she'll take a closer look at the impact of HIV on black youth. We're pleased to have her. She joins us via cell phone from New York.
Judge Hatchett, thanks for being with us.
Judge GLENDA HATCHETT: Oh, thank you very much for having me today.
GORDON: We should also note that Phil Wilson is joining us as well. He's the founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, based in Los Angeles.
Phil, always good to talk to you.
Mr. PHIL WILSON (Founder & Executive Director, Black AIDS Institute): Good to talk to you, Ed. How you doing?
GORDON: Good. Thank you. Phil, let me start with you, the idea that we heard from Brenda Wilson. There are still reasons to be concerned with the ever-growing rate of AIDS in the black community. And one of the things that she mentioned, and we see it hits home in your back yard, is that many people who are fighting this are losing money. The Black AIDS Institute, for instance, it's my understanding, has seen a 50 percent reduction in your budget. Is that correct?
Mr. WILSON: Correct. You know what's interesting? As the disease has gotten darker and darker over time, the commitment to fight the disease has gotten less and less. We see particularly organizations that are targeting black and brown and poor, and women organizations, dying on the vines because they are underresourced.
GORDON: Judge Hatchett, we should note that this is one of the reasons that you decided to step up. I know that we've talked about this before. The platform that you have with the program enables you to get the word out, where in a situation like Phil's, where monies may indeed be reduced, you're able to trumpet this.
Judge HATCHETT: Absolutely. And this is critical because I think so many times we think that this is no longer a critical problem, particularly young people. They see athletes and celebrities who have survived and, you know, appear to be doing well and think, `OK. This is not a threat,' but this 14-year-old in this particular case that you will--that will air on World AIDS Day, on tomorrow, really has been involved with more than 20 sexual partners with absolutely no concern, no clue about her own safety. And so I use this as an opportunity for a wake-up call, not only for her but for hopefully all the people that are watching to say, `This is real.' And it's my first international intervention that we've done, and I'm very proud to tell you that we sent her to a little village in South Africa and had her spend the week with kids her age, all of whom are orphaned now because of this horrible, horrible disease.
And so this is not the time for cuts in budgets. This is not the time for us to ignore it. We need more than ever to be acutely sensitive to the issue, and I'm hoping that this episode really will have a wake-up call to a lot of young people in this nation.
GORDON: And, Phil, it's important to note, while we look at AIDS tomorrow more closely and we're hinting at it here, it seems as though as we progress with medicines against this disease, the concern, as often happens, lessens and that in turn becomes very problematic until we have a full-blown cure.
Mr. WILSON: Exactly. You know, we have a good news-bad news scenario. You know, the good news is that we are making progress. You know, we've seen, in fact, a 6 percent drop in infection rates among black women and we've seen a 5 percent drop in infection rates among African-Americans overall over the last three years, but that is evidence that prevention works, particularly targeted prevention. Now is not the time to back away. Now is the time to reinvigorate our efforts.
On the bad news while the vast majority of new infections still occur among men, both in America at large and in black America, the racial gap in infection rates among women is astounding. Today, black women account for 68 percent of new female HIV infections and we really need to focus on this issue. Tomorrow, the Black AIDS Institute will be releasing the first national report called Getting Real: Black Women Taking Charge in the Fight Against AIDS. We will also be co-sponsoring, in partnership with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the first-ever national black women and AIDS conference in the United States. Nearly 25 years into the epidemic and this is the first time there's been a national gathering of black women in America to talk about HIV and AIDS.
GORDON: Judge Hatchett, I know that you are out often talking with young people, and as you suggested in your program, you'll pick this up and illustrate this, but I'm curious: What has been most astounding to you in terms of what you're hearing back from people?
Judge HATCHETT: Well, I will tell you people don't get the fact that this is a critical issue. I mean, this young girl, for instance, in the episode that will air tomorrow said to me--she said, `Well, Judge, I don't use any protection, no precaution. If I ask them if they're HIV positive and they say no, then I proceed.' She's had multiple partners. I mean, just the kind of oblivious--almost thinking that this couldn't possibly happen to them, and I don't think that we have enough conversation going on with particularly younger people. And the fact that we're seeing half of the new AIDS cases occurring in that population under 25, the population that I'm interacting with, they're just kind of out here playing Russian roulette with their lives in a way that's very, very, very concerning of how we get over this issue, and there's got to be a whole recharge of an effort to make sure that they understand what's happening.
Mr. WILSON: And, Ed, one of the issues that Judge Hatchett raises is why we need to look at the social and the political forces that undermine black women's efforts to build and sustain healthy sexual partners and relationships in general. We need to look at messages that we send to young black girls that tells them that if they are not with a man that they are not valuable. We need to talk to young black men about sexual responsibility and...
Judge HATCHETT: I agree.
Mr. WILSON: ...relationships that they have.
Judge HATCHETT: Absolutely I agree. I mean, one of the big problems is this whole issue of esteem, that somehow you equate love with sexual activity, and I try to get them to understand that that is not an equation, which--I think you'll see a radical change in this young girl when she gets back, and that episode won't air until May, but just a wake-up call. You've got to value yourself first and we aren't having enough of those conversations, I think, in America, frankly.
GORDON: And, Phil, real quick for me with less than a minute to go--one of the things that we have to understand, that for years this was seen as a homosexual disease--there's so much homophobia going on within the black community.
Mr. WILSON: Right.
GORDON: But now, whether that was true or not in the past, it has crossed all social and economic barriers.
Judge HATCHETT: All social and economic barriers and...
Mr. WILSON: No one can...
Judge HATCHETT: ...this is a worldwide problem. I mean, my sons and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in East Africa, and we're talking about just an epidemic that is beyond comprehension. There are 14 million children now who are orphaned on the continent of Africa. So this is a major problem in the States, but it is a major problem that affects people of color worldwide.
Mr. WILSON: And, Ed...
GORDON: Paul, about 15 seconds.
Mr. WILSON: ...it's important for your listeners to know that there is something that they can do. For example, they can get informed. They can learn the facts. They can get tested. It's important for them to know their HIV status. And they can make sure that they don't get infected and that they don't infect others if they already have the virus.
GORDON: And we should note that there are...
Judge HATCHETT: And pass it on to people.
GORDON: ...institutes out there like yours, the Black AIDS Institute, in Los Angeles and many more across the country.
Judge Hatchett, we thank you so much. Always good to talk you.
Judge HATCHETT: Oh, thank you.
GORDON: And, Phil, good to talk to you.
Mr. WILSON: Thank you, Ed.
Judge HATCHETT: Thank you.
GORDON: All right.
This is NPR News.