Sharing Our Knowledge. Taking More Action.

04/16/2013 03:34 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2013

Just a little over a month ago, on March 10, we observed National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), to raise awareness about HIV's often overlooked impact on women and girls in the United States.

Let's start with the good news. In December 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported a 21 percent decrease in new infections among women in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010. For that, we can be truly excited.

But then there's the reality check of where we still are. Women of color continue to be disproportionately affected. In 2010, Black women accounted for about two thirds (64 percent) of new infections among women in the U.S., while we are only 13 percent of the population. The rate of new infection was 20 times greater for Black women as compared to white women. As an African-American woman, this means a lot to me. I have dedicated my life to fighting the disease in my community and am committed to addressing HIV for all women in our country.

Which brings me back to NWGHAAD. This year's awareness day, whose theme was "Share Knowledge. Take Action," may have past, but the HIV epidemic's impact on U.S. women and girls has not. We must capitalize on the momentum we gain from these awareness days -- to move beyond "talking the talk" and really begin "walking the walk" about how are responding to the epidemic in our communities. That's why I feel fortunate that the organization I work for, AIDS United, has long been a "walking the walk" organization, especially when it comes to HIV and women. The same holds true for our generous funding partners who align with us and make strategic investments in these critical programs that reach out to women.

Our GENERATIONS program is a tremendous example of a real and meaningful response. In 2005, with our dedicated partners Johnson & Johnson and the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University, AIDS United developed a groundbreaking community-science partnership to reach women in the United States at high risk for HIV by supporting community-driven prevention programs around the country using a combination of cash grants, evidence-based prevention models, technical assistance and evaluation support.

In the last seven years, 21 organizations, representing a diversity of geographic locations, including Alabama, Atlanta, Detroit, Oakland, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, benefited from GENERATIONS. Three 28-month cohorts of grantees served over 3500 women and girls at high risk for contracting HIV from diverse populations that included incarcerated women, Chinese-American sex workers and African American cosmetology students. In the most recent cohort of GENERATIONS grantees, the women served across six sites demonstrated increased HIV testing, increased condom use during vaginal and anal sex and a decrease in the number of unprotected sex acts with main male partners. We are proud of these special organizations and the amazing work they have done to make a difference for the communities they serve.

AIDS United also supports numerous women-centered programs developed in communities, through our other initiatives, including a public-private partnership in Access to Care for people living with HIV/AIDS and our advocacy-focused Southern REACH program supported by the Ford Foundation. We are also engaged in a project to learn more about how women might use HIV treatment as prevention (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP), which in recent studies has shown promise as a prevention tool.

And now, AIDS United is teaming with some exciting new partners who definitely know how to walk the walk in raising awareness and developing responses to the HIV epidemic: 14-time Grammy Award-winning artist and HIV advocate Alicia Keys and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ms. Keys has introduced EMPOWERED, a new cross-platform public information campaign developed with Greater Than AIDS to reach U.S. women about HIV/AIDS.

As part of EMPOWERED, Ms Keys keeps the momentum going by announcing another component and another partner: the EMPOWERED Community Grants Program, administered by my organization, AIDS United in partnership with KFF! The EMPOWERED Community Grants Program will support innovative programs for marginalized, underserved women that don't have or can't get prevention and care services. An advisory committee of esteemed women leaders in HIV philanthropy, medicine and advocacy will review proposals from community-based organizations, and will make recommendations to AIDS United, who will make the awards and administer the grants.

AIDS United is honored and proud to be a part of this exciting new program, and for the vote of confidence that Ms. Keys and our friends at KFF have given to us for our track record with effective women-centered programs. For more information about applying for an EMPOWERED Community Grant, or if you wish to partner in supporting the program, visit AIDS United's EMPOWERED Community Grants Program web page.

What is so inspiring about the EMPOWERED campaign is that it embodies the theme of this year's NWGHAAD. Through the new public information campaign with Greater Than AIDS, we are sharing our knowledge about the impact of the HIV epidemic on women in the United States. Through the EMPOWERED Community Grants Program , we are taking action to help our most vulnerable populations of women protect themselves -- and those they love -- from continuing the spread of the virus.

Our new collaboration with Alicia Keys and the Kaiser Family Foundation moves us way beyond just observing National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. With the EMPOWERED Community Grants Program, we are building the foundation for an AIDS-free generation of our nation's women and girls.