National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2022: ‘Talk About It, Be About It’, An Intergenerational Conversation

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L-R Dr. Laverne Gentry (National Coalition 100 Black Women, Inc./Recording Secretary & 6th Past President), Kara Pickett (St. Andrew’s Episcopal School), Dr. Carmen Walters (President/Tougaloo College), Deja Abdul-Haqq (My Brother’s Keeper), and Vanessa Edmond (National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc.)

The Black AIDS Institute (BIA), a leading voice in educating and mobilizing communities across the country in the fight to end HIV/AIDS epidemic, and AT Health Justice Collaborative have joined forces via a YouTube streaming collaborative event to combine their voices and resources urging Black women to commit to prioritizing their own health as much as they have committed to taking care of their families and community.  

Although the Black AIDS Institute and AT Health Justice Collaborative have their own dedicated agendas, they came together on March 24, 2022 to host the inaugural Talk About It, Be About It event, entitled “Black Women on HIV, COVID and Beyond,  An Intergenerational Conversation”, to facilitate dialogue between young and older Black women and discuss their efforts to bring awareness to the crisis state of the HIV/AIDS among Black women and girls throughout the U.S. and globally.  

Statistically, the Centers for Disease Control reports women makeup 19% of all new HIV diagnoses, and the highest number of new diagnoses are among women ages 25-44. Disparities in HIV continue as Black women and girls accounted for 57% of the HIV diagnoses. The National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is dedicated to bringing awareness to the growing cases among young adult females and addressing testing, treatment, and progress in the national goal to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. The Black AIDS Institute has also launched the Black Women and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) Toolkit to advocate for the use of HIV PrEP, an FDA-approved daily medication that prevents HIV by over 90%.

Because preventative care is vital to closing the health care disparity gaps that disproportionately impact Black women, the “Talk About It, Be About It” initiative is a part of a series of community conversations and events focused on women’s health that began March 24th. The conversations featured, and will feature in the future, physicians and health care experts focusing on the prevention of new HIV diagnoses among women and girls, reproductive health, prioritizing healthcare access, and improving the overall wellness and health outcomes for Black women in the US.

The“Talk About It, Be About It” event was held at Tougaloo College and  was guided by Deja Abdul-Haqq, Director of Organizational Development at My Brother’s Keeper.  Vanessa Edmond of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. was the opening site greeter on behalf of those attending in-person. Speakers streamed in  from Charlotte, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; New York City; and Tougaloo, Mississippi.  Additionally, two high school students (Kara Pickett, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Ridgeland, MS and Camille Adkins, Richmond, VA) spoke on the historical disparity aspects in Black women’s healthcare and the work/projects that are being done where they live and attend high school, respectively. Audience support and engagement through questions and comments was provided by Dr. Laverne Gentry of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Dr. Corrine Anderson, S.T.A.N.D. (Sisters Taking Action and Nurturing Decision Makers), and Dr. Carmen Walters, President, Tougaloo College, who was accompanied by several Tougaloo students. The collaborative partnership also includes Open Arms Healthcare Center and LabLINQ.

In an interview, Grazell R. Howard, chair of the board of the Black AIDS Institute, said, “Twenty-three percent of all people living with HIV are women with Black women as the majority of this grim statistic. We must take care of ourselves; we must make our health a priority. On this day and every day, we must empower women and girls, especially in communities of color, to have those difficult conversations about knowing your HIV status and seeking treatments and preventions to reduce the spread of HIV among women and girls.”

Site discussion panel commentator Dr. Ivy Turnbull, deputy executive director of the AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Youth, Children and Families and chair of the National Black Women’s HIV/AIDS Network, said, “Black women and girls living with and at risk of HIV face unique challenges that can prevent them from getting needed care and treatment. Consequently, they often delay entry into care and experience poor health outcomes. It is essential that Black women and girls living with and at risk of HIV are more readily engaged in prevention interventions that produce positive health outcomes.”

Another panel commentator, Faye Marshall, COO of the Quality Comprehensive Health Center, Powerhouse Project in Charlotte, said, “Our community of African American women are often misrepresented and excluded from conversations About Us and For Us as it relates to decision-making that impacts our overall health and well-being. It is time for us to demand our seats at the table and lift our voices! We are no longer willing to remain silent and be overlooked. The time is now to  “Talk About It, Be About It.” This is the appointed time for change.”

Dr. Laverne Gentry was instrumental in the Tougaloo College being chosen as one of the streaming sites for the inaugural event.  Dr. Gentry said, “I felt that due to the extraordinary work that Tougaloo College has done dealing with health disparity through their Undergraduate Training Program and the historic Jackson Heart Study, Tougaloo was an obvious choice site.”

Deja Abdul-Haqq closed out the event guiding the Q & A and comments for participants at Tougaloo. Abdul-Haqq said, “We are seeing a surge in the presence of young Black women coming in to receive STI and HIV screenings. We need to create powerful and comfortable ways of inserting PrEP, condoms, and abstinence into conversations among Black women. That’s the only way we will change the tide of STI and HIV rates among Black women. We change the tide by upgrading the conversation.”

The “Talk About It, Be About It” event was held on the historic Tougaloo College campus in the auditorium of the Bennie G. Thompson Building.  

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National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2022: ‘Talk About It, Be About It’, An Intergenerational Conversation

By Brinda Fuller Willis
April 5, 2022