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Engaging Churches to 'Get to Zero'

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As we observe 2012 World AIDS Day on December 1, we approach this day -- which brings people together for the purpose of increasing HIV/AIDS awareness -- with our focus on this year's theme, "Getting to Zero" (theme for years 2011-2015). Moving towards zero HIV infections, zero AIDS related deaths and zero discrimination will require community solidarity, along with public and private partners working together to encourage and foster progress in HIV/AIDS education, prevention, treatment and care.

Since the theme's inception in 2011, numerous challenges such as war, terrorism, natural disasters and economic calamities have pushed for community and governments' prioritizing, while HIV funding has been hit with continued cuts, which assist to exacerbate the debilitating effects of HIV and the mortality rate of AIDS. All has not been lost in the desperate fight to bring relief to a people (black) disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. In the year 2012 "Ending AIDS" has become the prophetic call to community. As we turn the tide of this pandemic together, "Ending AIDS" is a "war cry" from the bowels of love demanding the passionate and compassionate merging of gifts, talents and skills within communities to overcome that (AIDS) which has already taken so much of God's precious life from us.

With all the great medical strides gained through research, improving the quality of care and treatments, one would assume all populations' numbers would decline. Data acquired from The Henry I. Kaiser Family Foundation HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet shows black Americans have been "disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic's beginning, and that disparity has deepened over time." Blacks account for more new HIV infections, AIDS diagnoses, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV related deaths than any other racial/ethic group in the U.S. Today, there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., including approximately 545,000 who are Blacks in the U.S.

Since the beginning of AIDS, faith's hands have played an incredible role in healing and restoration, and as pastors and congregants become more informed and take the necessary actions to be empowered to prevent the transmission and/or spread of AIDS, the number of hands belonging to faith will increase, and the community will be better for it. The church is a cornerstone of black community, and as communities of faith increases their HIV/AIDS knowledge base and engage the process to end AIDS, so shall we see a significant decline in transmission rates for black people.

Slowly but surely, 30-plus years into the AIDS pandemic, we are witnessing tenacity, strength and resilience unfold in our ranks. These qualities are entrenched in our history, for at the core of the black struggle is the absolute capacity to overcome and survive against the odds. In the early days of the epidemic, those qualities lacked in the fight against AIDS for many communities, including institutions of faith, as many still are paralyzed by HIV stigma. With federal, state, city and local budgets strained by deficits, without passionate and strategic planning and advocacy, it is difficult for many leaders to prioritize HIV/AIDS prevention, education, services, care and treatment. There are only a few entities responding to this health crisis with the urgency it warrants.

Collaborative partnerships within community neighborhoods are proving to be the way to maximize efficacy and capacity to fulfill the mission of meeting the needs of the community. An example of such a successful collaborative partnership is the one forged between Love Alive International Foundation, Watchful Eye, Intersections of the Triad , Brooklyn Medical Plaza, Black Veterans for Social Justice, Benjamin Banner High School, and MOCADA Museum -- all located in Brooklyn working together to make services more available and accessible, while successfully maximizing resources for the greater impact of meeting the community needs, as they fulfill their perspective missions.