September 28, 2001

AIDS is Still a Devastating Public Enemy 



It's hard to remember what else we cared about before Sept. 11. 

The terrorists who attacked our largest city also attacked our national agenda. Everything got moved down. It eclipsed not only government operations, but also personal concerns about our health, our bills, our travel itineraries, our plans to buy new cars. 

Everything seemed so important. Government forays into the Social Security Fund. The plight of Medicare and Medicaid. National problems with illiteracy. Faith-based initiatives. 

AIDS. Growing numbers

Now that we're working our way back to normal, we must focus in two directions at once: the growing global crisis and other issues at home. 

Few are more important than the growing numbers of people -- particularly African Americans and heterosexual women -- who are contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

The latest figures for the silent killer haven't changed: AIDS remains the leading cause of death among African Americans aged 25 to 44, according to recent studies by the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, one of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control. 

About 40,000 new HIV infections occur every year, 54 percent among African Americans, who represent only 13 percent of the U.S. populace. 

A third of new infections occur during heterosexual sex. One in every 160 black women and one in every 3,000 white women is infected every year. 

Thirty percent of gay and bisexual African-American men aged 23 to 29 were HIV positive, according to a recent CDC study, compared to 7 percent of white gay and bisexual men, with whom the epidemic began 20 years ago. 

Walk for hope

As the world prepares for possible war, and the families of those who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack await official declarations that hope is gone, why should we care about anything else? 

Because America, with God's help, will survive the tragedy and the challenging days ahead. 

And when life resumes, not as we used to know it, but the way we choose to live it post-tragedy, we still have other work to do. 

That's why 11 AIDS walks across Michigan this weekend have not been canceled. That's why organizers of the Detroit Walk are urging residents of the nation's second blackest city to turn out big. 

Why? Maybe you missed it a few graphs up. Black people account for more than half of new HIV infections. 

This weekend's walk won't be just about exercise or fund-raising. It will be about education for all people. Detroit's walk, which begins at noon Saturday at Belle Isle, will help us celebrate and teach us not to be victims. 

Registration for the 5K walk begins at 10 a.m. But organizers are encouraging families to come out all day by offering live entertainment on two stages and interactive playscapes for children. 

Those who attend also can see 30 quilt blocks from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which honors those who have died and the effort to halt the spread of the disease. 

Mayor Dennis Archer and former Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon are honorary chairs. Sheryl Lee Ralph of "Moesha" fame will be shown on a big screen discussing the issue. 

If you're a Detroit area family, please come to Belle Isle, for the sake of our kids and our future. We will have a future, hopefully one without terrorists, and one without AIDS. For more information, call AIDS WALK Michigan at 888-791-9255.