World AIDS Day Summit Addresses Public Health Racial Inequities

The newly formed Black Leadership Advocacy Coalition for Healthcare Equity (BLACHE), comprised of twelve Illinois community-based HIV/AIDS service providers, hosted a ” World AIDS Awareness Day Summit on Racial Inequity”  on December 1, 2021, at the King Community Center, 4314 South Cottage Grove, to raise awareness of the racial inequity in funding by the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health relative to their HIV/AIDS budgets to Black-led HIV/AIDS community-based organizations.

Follow this link to watch/hear the event in its entirety which was streamed live on Facebook https://fb.watch/9DynjBuvKU/

Esteemed speakers participating in the summit included:

Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins, Democrat 16th District, Chicago. Sponsor of Red Ribbon Lottery Ticket and one of the original sponsors of the Illinois African-American HIV/AIDS Response Fund Act (AAHARA), passed in 2006. She said, “HIV/AIDS disproportionately spreads among African-Americans due to a long history of systemic racist policies, under-representation, and lack of funding.” She also called for State Senators and State Representatives across Illinois to act during the 2022 legislative session to support substantially increased funding for Black-led HIV/AIDS service providers.

State Representative Lashawn K. Ford spoke on the number of people that the Centers for Disease Control reports are HIV positive, but unaware of it  — primarily among African-Americans. He closed by “rededicating” himself to pushing for more racially equitable funding by the State of Illinois.

Phill Wilson, Founder, Former CEO, Black AIDS Institute, and internationally renowned HIV/AIDS advocate and activist addressed the need for “action – not memorials or celebrations on World AIDS Day, saying, “We can’t get to Zero in Illinois if more funding and resources are not allocated to Black-led community service providers.”

Robin Robinson, a Veteran Chicago journalist best known for her 27 years as main news anchor of WFLD-TV in Chicago, shared how her brother and family struggled with his battle against AIDS which he died of in 1996. She spoke on how he traveled from Division and State on public transportation to South Side Help Center on 104th Halsted. ”He did whatever it took to get to a Black organization…people he could trust; (he felt) they were people who might have some love for me despite all my flaws and knowing that I have AIDS,” she said passionately.

State Representative Lamont Robinson, IL 5 th District, addressed how he made history as the first out LGBTQ African-American to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly and his sponsorship of 2021 legislation leading to an increase from $1.2M to $15M in funding of the Illinois African-American HIV/AIDS Response Act (AAHARA).  “It is sad that we as a country have the necessary tools and resources to eradicate the spread of HIV, but enough is not being put into the African-American community,” Robinson said. ”It’s not enough,” he commented in referencing the increase to $15M Illinois funding while Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) HIV/AIDS  budget is $103M, as 46% of new diagnoses are among African-Americans though they comprise only 14% of the state’s population.

Keynote Speaker, Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSW, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Iona College, New Rochelle, NY.  Educator and researcher on HIV prevention and intervention, Vice-Chair, US Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (2016-17). Wheeler currently serves on the Executive Management Committee of the HIV Prevention Trials Network. “We have to challenge the epidemiological rubrics and boxes of race as a biological construct, that in and of itself has meaning when we dole out dollars” Wheeler stated. “Ultimately it is going to be about who gets to represent us at the table; essentially, who are those in positions to provide oversight to fiscal resources, in an equitable and fair way,” Wheeler went on to say. “We all have heard the question, are you doing just to be doing or are you doing with a purpose. The purpose, of course, has to be equity.”

State Representative LaToya Greenwood, Majority Conference Chairperson (D-East St. Louis), 114th District stated, “The racial inequity and spread of HIV/AIDS is greater now than it was in 2006 when the Illinois African-American HIV/AIDS Act was passed into law.” She thanked Harold Lawry, ED, Writers, Planners & Trainers, and Dana Williams, ED, Community Wellness Center for their leadership and service to communities in her district in Southern Illinois.

Chris Baltazar, ED, Taskforce Community Prevention Services, spoke on the impact of HIV among Black youth. He pointed out that lack of stable housing, homophobia, and stigma are drivers of growing rates of HIV.  Chris introduced Damion Reed, a staff tester and resource advocate who spoke about how funding would help provide a greater level of much-needed HIV prevention awareness and medications in hospital emergency rooms and among communities of Black people.

Russell Jackson, Director of Programs, Transforming Reentry Services, spoke as a “returning citizen” who has been home for 13 years, on the impact of HIV/AIDS among those formerly incarcerated.  Among his comments were, “Of the 600 men and women in prison on a daily basis by the Illinois Department of Corrections, 200 persons are released with HIV positive diagnosis.” He further stated that simultaneously, there are approximately 150 people who are HIV positive going into Illinois prisons. This is indicative of how the cycle of recidivism is increasing the rate of HIV in African American communities, particularly since 60% of those who are incarcerated are African-American. Jackson also addressed how large White-led agencies have been granted millions in HIV/AIDS grants while subcontracting Black-led agencies with “pennies.” He referred to this practice as “share-cropping.”

Al Forbes, Consultant, Brother’s Health Collective and ProActive Community Services, stated that Black same-gender-loving men “should not have to choose between being healthy and having a livelihood/”. He closed with, “Black and Brown people need to demand that our representatives have the money follow the epidemic.”

Joshua Travis, Executive Director, Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus commented that there is an abundance of funding going toward prevention and care relative to HIV/AIDS, but that, “only a fraction goes to Black agencies.” “I’m grateful that we have coalitions and a united voice. We want to stop being just a side note, but the solution to the problem.”  Equitable funding, he said, would make this possible.

Stephanie Skora, Associate ED, Brave Space Alliance, spoke on the need to have culturally relative and culturally competent service providers and address social determinants of health in LGBTQ+ communities as the solution to negate the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS. “We know what the solutions to our problems are, but we do not have the resources—the funding—to make those solutions a reality. If we had an appropriate portion of state and city funding, we could end the epidemic in our communities.  We’ve been underfunded. We’ve been overlooked and ignored for far too long. Proportional funding must go to Black and Brown LGBTQ people so that Trans people are not left behind,” Skora said.

Jerome Montgomery, ED Project VIDA, gave statistics on the incidence of HIV among African-Americans being twice that of the Hispanic population in Chicago. “Trends in HIV show an overall decrease in new diagnoses, but rates are increasing in Black and Brown communities,” he explained. He gave statistics reflecting how the same is true of the incidence of syphilis and gonorrhea. Montgomery called for a change in the way that public health funding has been allocated primarily to large White-led AIDS service providers instead of Black-led CBOS which are indigenous to the communities they operate in and serve saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Harold Cherry, Director, Street & Community Outreach, South Side Help Center (SSHC) spoke on how he began working in 1995 when the organization was led by its founder, Betty Smith. “More light,” he said, is what equitable funding will bring to Black communities. He recounted on testing a 28-year old woman at a recent community event, and how she cried in front of her children when told she had tested positive for HIV. “There are a number of young people who are completely unaware of the risks of contracting HIV. We think they know (about HIV/AIDS), but they don’t,” Cherry lamented.  “SSHC is out every day providing HIV education in the African-American community and we need “more light” to fund more outreach and education.”

Myles Brady-Davis,  Director of Communications, Equality Illinois, spoke on passages of HIV decriminalization law, and the need for more equitable funding to Black-led community-based organizations. “If we want to see someone’s priorities, we need to ask to see their budgets.” He also congratulated the leadership of BLACHE and committed to working to advocate for more equitable funding and capacity building.

Yaa Simpson, Community Epidemiologist, opened the summit with libations, honoring the lives of those who passed due to HIV/AIDS.

Pastor Phil Tarver, RIAA Platinum Gospel Recording Artist sang “Better Than That.” And, Zenon Vivara recited a dramatic poem he wrote on how his father wanted him to be proud of who he was as a Black gay man, despite acts of cruelty and rejection of others.

Creola Kizart-Hampton, President, GreaterWork Inc., lead organizer of BLACHE, closed the program speaking on the need to support Illinois State legislation to 1)extend the end of the Illinois AAHARA from 2025 to 2050. 2)continue funding of the AAHARA at $15M annually, 3)promote equity in public health funding, and 4) encourage Black people to get tested and know their HIV status.

Background on Public Health HIV/AIS Funding Inequity

*African Americans comprise 48% of new diagnoses of HIV though only 14% of Illinois Population; according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, only $1.7M of its HIV/AIDS budget of $103M is allocated to Black-Led community-based HIV/AIDS service providers in Illinois.

*Chicago Department of Public Health allocated only $1.7M of its $40M+ HIV/AIDS budget to Black-led community-based HIV/AIDS service providers in Chicago, though African-Americans comprise more than 42% of new HIV diagnoses in the city (followed by Hispanic persons (21.7).

Founding member organizations of BLACHE include

  • Brave Space Alliance, LaSaia Wade, Executive Director
  • Brothers Health Collective/ Alliance Care 360, Ariq Cabbler, Executive Director
  • Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus, Joshua Travis, Executive Director
  • Community Wellness Project, Dana Williams, Executive Director
  • Community Supportive Living Systems, Crystal Gamble, Executive Director
  • GreaterWorks Inc., Integrated Communications & Public Affairs, Creola Kizart-Hampton, Founder/President
  • Project VIDA, Jerome Montgomery, Executive Director
  • Proactive Community Services, Eula Burge, Executive Director
  • South Side Help Center, Vanessa Smith, Executive Director
  • TACTS, Sister Yaa Simpson, Founder/President
  • Taskforce Prevention & Community Services, Christopher Balthazar, Executive Director
  • Transforming Reentry Services, Rev. Doris Green, Founder, CEO
  • Writers, Planners, Trainers Inc., Harold Lawary, Executive Director

ABOUT BLACHE:

The purpose of the Black Leadership Advocacy Coalition for Healthcare Equity (BLACHE) is to identify and dismantle systemically racist policies and funding processes that result in inequitable funding of Black-led community-based organizations in order to negate the historically inequitable spread and impact of HIV/AIDS, specifically among the Black/African-American population throughout Illinois. Visit the Facebook pageBLACHEIllinois for additional information.

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