Prevent Insanity and Stop Being Stupid – Change What You Do

Dázon Dixon Diallo, MPH Founder/President SisterLove, Inc. Atlanta, GA

So, we know what it is called when we keep doing the same things and expect different outcomes – insanity. What is it called when we keep doing the same things and can’t expect anything different - Stupid? I had a high school English teacher who had a painted message on her chalkboard: “Ignorance can be fixed, but Stupid is Forever.”   I think this expression describes the Black AIDS crisis perfectly.

Between 1994 and 1995, I attended or helped coordinate more than 10 funerals of Black people I knew personally and closely who died from AIDS-related illnesses. I stopped going to funerals for a LONG time, no matter the cause of death.  Then, along came the Highly-Active Anti-Retroviral medication which led to improved outcomes, within a few short years, for those who could get access to treatment.  The death tolls decreased, the life expectancy for HIV+ people increased dramatically, and for more than a decade I neither avoided nor attended a funeral for a person who had died from HIV or AIDS. Between 2010 and 2011, I have lost three close friends who were young, gifted, Black, and HIV positive.

Just before World AIDS Day, we said goodbye to Kenneth Robinson. Kenneth was a long time survivor with HIV. He was a heterosexual black man who was in recovery from drug abuse nearly 20 years, and quit smoking cigarettes five years ago. Kenneth ran the longest running HIV+ support group for men and women in GA. He was a longtime volunteer of SisterLove in Atlanta GA.  Just this week, we said goodbye to Jason Wessenaar-Moloatsi. Jason was a young, vibrant, gay and HIV+ Black South African who championed the fight against homophobia and HIV/AIDS in his country. He too was a volunteer for SisterLove, in South Africa. While neither of them died of AIDS, it was the social ills of stigma, disjointed healthcare and homophobic violence that killed them. We honor and welcome these brothers as new ancestors and spirit guides. Axe’ Kenneth and Jason. We love you.

I have been a part of the fight to end AIDS for over 27 years, and in the words of the NAACP, “Much has changed, much has not!” Our people still act as if the AIDS epidemic belongs to someone else. You want the truth? It belongs to all of us, especially people of African descent in every corner of the planet.  Today, we have the potential to end this epidemic through continued behavior interventions, biomedical treatment and prevention technology, and changes in our healthcare system. Through greater investment in the structural changes we need to happen – ending the prison industrial complex; ending violence in our communities (especially against women, children/youth, and lesbians and gay men); ending the stigma and discrimination associated with homophobia, HIV and AIDS in our communities; and being more inclusive in our houses of worship – we can make even bigger strides to stop HIV and AIDS in our communities.  We could practically end AIDS by creating greater quality and equality in our access to and achievements in healthcare, education and economic growth!

More than 1.2 million people in America are living with HIV or AIDS. Almost 50% of the new HIV infections every year are in Black Americans. Among women, more than 60% of women with HIV are Black. Among gay and bisexual men, more than 40% of those living with HIV are Black. Among HIV positive youth between the ages of 15-29, nearly 70% are Black. This is AIDS in America. This is our epidemic – our men, our women, our children, our people. What part of it do you own? What have you done to end the spread of HIV or the suffering from AIDS lately? Do you know your status? Have you been tested this year? Have you encouraged someone else to get tested? Have you hugged a person living with or working to end HIV and AIDS, and told them that you love them for fighting for all of us?

The only way we can win this fight, this war, against HIV and the ignorance and hate that help it thrive, is to do something different – and start NOW. Improve your knowledge of HIV-related health and research issues. Know your HIV status – Get Tested! Protect yourself and others. If you know you are HIV+ then please get treatment and support. Campaign and vote for candidates who support the aims of the National HIV AIDS Strategy. Donate to and volunteer for your local HIV/AIDS service organizations. Join more than one national HIV/AIDS advocacy group. And if you have not done anything different to change the outcome, I just have to ask you, Are You Insane or are you Stupid? There is still time to change the outcome by changing what you do, and that time is always right now.

Just as the Black struggle for social justice and human rights has always been a parallel struggle with Africans seeking independence and plurality, so is our fight to end the disproportionate and unchecked impact of AIDS in Africa and in Black America. We are neither stupid nor insane, but we have been ignorant and indifferent, which means this can be fixed- but we HAVE TO ACT NOW and keep it up until it’s over.