June 22, 2016 / By Reverend Keron R. Sadler, NAACP Manager of Health Programs

For decades, African Americans were convinced they had no power, voice or influence in our country. Increasingly, they are showing this is far from the truth. Although suppressed for hundreds of years, African Americans continued to fight against injustices facing their communities and for equality among all people. They have persevered and have had a major impact on American history, culture and society – just think of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Benjamin Banneker and Madame C.J. Walker, to name a few.

As influential as these individuals are to our history, so are faith leaders. Dating back to the early days of Civil Rights movement, African-American clergy along with local and national leaders of the NAACP achieved remarkable victories because of their spirit of collectivism and emphasis on equality and democracy.

HIVEach year, the NAACP inspires and encourages African-American faith leaders to unite on the Day of Unity to address the HIV epidemic in their communities while creating a network of knowledge and action around HIV as a social justice issue. I recently participated in one of our national faith-based strategy sessions where I learned of the acronym GRACE – “Giving and Receiving AIDS Compassionate Education.” This year commemorates the fifth year of the NAACP’s The Black Church and HIV initiative and its Day of Unity. The number five symbolizes God’s grace and goodness. During my tenure at the national office of the NAACP, I vividly recall how God’s grace and goodness has been evident.

Partnering with Gilead Sciences, Inc., in 2010 the NAACP national health department began to convene faith leaders in 12 cities where African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. We facilitated roundtable discussions to identify why community leaders were not talking about this disease and heard a plethora of barriers and challenges they face. As one solution, we developed The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative toolkit, which offers ideas, facts and resources on how faith leaders can become HIV advocates and how the HIV epidemic affects the Black community. Following the launch of the toolkit, in 2013 the NAACP and Gilead Sciences, Inc., entered into a joint Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action to scale up the initiative from 12 cities to 30 and engage more than 3,000 mostly African-American faith leaders nationwide in the social justice fight against HIV. These milestones are solely because of God’s grace and goodness and we are impacting how people think about HIV and health, dispelling HIV myths, affording people with more opportunities to know their HIV status and influencing many to join us on this journey.

It is important that African Americans know they possess the power to create systemic and institutional changes, especially if they unify with one voice and one message for one purpose. According to the Gospel of Matthew 9:37, we are reminded that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Although there is a lot of significant work that needs to be done to bring about equality in health, education, economic and other social outcomes, we must come together and remain united – allowing nothing and no one to divide us. The same must be true to win the battle against HIV and AIDS.

There are over 21,000 Black Churches in America. Within these numbers, we are grateful for African-American faith leaders who are doing phenomenal work to engage communities in the movement to eradicate HIV. However, there are numerous churches that are still doing little to nothing and plenty of opportunities for involvement.

As we approach this year’s Day of Unity, we hope that you will be motivated to partner with us on Sunday, July 10 to raise awareness about HIV by preaching, sharing and acting. On July 10, preach about HIV as a social justice issue from your pulpit, share HIV statistics and facts in your church bulletin or via social media outlets, and act by offering HIV screenings – and consider leading by being tested first. As a unified people, we have the power and voice to make a difference for sustainable change so we are no longer “the statistic”!