The following post is written by Howard student-athletes Simone Counts ‘18 and Spencer Kelly ‘19, individual perspectives of being African-American and living in Washington, D.C. where HIV/AIDS is the highest percentage of affected people in the country.
In order to understand the severity of a problem, one must first recognize it within their own community. For years African Americans have accounted for a majority of newly diagnosed cases of HIV. With that being said, according to the CDC, 1 in 16 black men and 1 in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime. It is a crucial time, just like it was in the 1980s, to fight HIV in the black community. This is not the first time the black community faces a challenge that is debilitating and detrimental to its people. So, what now?
As a black woman…
living in D.C. as an advocate for health promotion and education, eradicating the HIV epidemic is one of my top priorities. And yes, it is still an epidemic. Growing up in a community that was far from black led me to my home away from home at Howard University, a community that breeds leaders to not only fight for what’s right but to also execute what needs to be done. The black community is at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to stigmas, fear, and most evidently a lack of awareness and education. This is why I find it liberating to teach middle schoolers every week about HIV. Education is one of the most valuable tools to impact our black community. It starts with knowing how to protect yourself and understanding what HIV is, how it spreads, and how to avoid contracting it. It also starts with knowing your status before it’s too late, which is why health education at a young age and getting tested regularly is so important. Being a health educator for the past four years for The Grassroot Project, I can attest to the power of education and the tremendous impact it has on nurturing lives of so many. Grassroots has taught me to be a leader not only on the field, but also in my community. A leader that will continue to find ways to improve my community and inspire healthier lifestyles. My students sign a contract where they vow to share their information with their peers, family members, mentors, and teammates, so remember today, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and every day, spreading what you know and learn can change the life of someone right next to you.
- #PeaceUpAIDSDown, Simone
As a black man…
living in today’s world where a disease is still a world epidemic, I am constantly aware of my surroundings: what kind of conversations people have, how my actions may cause trouble or help others, or even how I act around people who are part of a marginalized community. The Grassroot Project has taught me to be my authentic self when surrounded by people who I may not know based on their background and ideas. It’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. That means today we acknowledge an ostracized community of people: someone who is of African descent who is, or is not, HIV positive. I am also a part of this community. And to think that I too could become a statistic inspires me every day. I would like to write a few things for anyone viewing this post to continue that conversation (note: these are my own personal beliefs/viewpoints):
- Get tested. Know your HIV status. You may be part of a statistic that you couldn’t even fathom to think about.
- Be selfless. We should care about our physical and personal health, but at the same time, we should care about the health of people we are always in contact with.
- This day isn’t just about Awareness. Today is also about respect, love, care, emotion, friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood, and a million other things.
- Push the conversation of stigma, lean into discomfort, and change the narrative to the correct. Do your research. Know what is going on in your neighborhood, right outside your front door.
- Lastly, be your authentic self so that you can be the change for others.
These 5 simple things that went a long way has been invested in me through working with The Grassroot Project these past three years. And I hope I added a little more investment into your life. So, Happy National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and know this day isn’t for 24 hours and we simply move on. It is a continuous evolvement of growth, strength, and knowledge.
- With love, Spencer
Don’t forget to add The Grassroot Project on Instagram (@thegrassrootproject), Twitter (@GrassrootDC), and Facebook.
Follow Spencer (@theskellylife) and Simone (@simonecounts123) on Instagram