Blog post Alicia Keys, EMPOWERED, Greater Than Aids, HIV/AIDS, and Harlem

Congratulations to the Creative Arts Team at the Research Foundation of the City University of New York on being one of the grantees of the EMPOWERED community grant program. More info here: http://thewashingtonsun.com/?p=3529

Empowered is a campaign effort sponsored by Grammy award-winning singer Alicia Keys and Greater than AIDS to educate and empower women on HIV/AIDS.

I had the pleasure of attending a joint event by Alicia, Greater Than Aids and Harlem Hospital last August, which was a frank and open community discussion on HIV/AIDS in Harlem, a neighborhood where HIV diagnoses are 4-5x that of the national average and the disease disproportionately affects women of color. Speakers on the panel included Ms. Keys who is also a co-founder of Keep a Child Alive and a UN Global Ambassador, Congressman Charlie Rangel, Vin Baker, Minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dr. Helene Gayle CEO of CARE USA, Stephanie Brown who is an ambassador of EMPOWERED, Denise Soares who is the Executive Director of Harlem Hospital, hip hop mogul and philanthropist Russell Simmons and moderater Jeannine Amber, Senior writer at Essence Magazine. The event was held at Harlem Hospital and was attended by community organizers, physicians and other health care providers, HIV/AIDS activists, members of the Harlem community, and a number of young people.

Ms. Keys talked about her experience in Africa as a global ambassador as well what she has learned about the disease and the people it affects here in the US. Black women in particular are disproportionately affected and she sees education as a way to empower young women and the community. Dr. Gayle spoke frankly about how the stigma and misconceptions surrounding HIV (often related to it being classified as a “gay man’s disease”) are driving people away from information and treatment. I thought that Ms. Brown, who is openly HIV positive,was inspiring, especially when she talked about how she is not willing to be hampered by her status and that she is using her life and her story to educate others.

As a clinician who has taken care of patients with HIV/ AIDS and as someone who went to school in Harlem, it was inspiring for me to see such frank discussion about HIV and also to hear the community’s questions and concerns, as well as ideas on what can be done to address the issues that surfaced during the discussion. At one point during the discussion, the window period of HIV/AIDS testing came up and there was a stir in the crowd as some people were not aware of the window period (a time when an infected person can still transmit the disease to others but their antibody test might say undetectable). It is clear that an education initiative is needed so that people, especially young women, will be informed of the facts and empowered by that information.

One of the things that Ms. Keys said is that we no longer see people dying from the disease but it’s still here and it is affecting a lot of people. Indeed, that is true and reflects the disease’s change from being extremely acute to being a chronic disease that can be managed with medications. Instead of dying of AIDS, people are living with HIV. Just the same, it is important to have discussions about it because as she pointed out, complacency can kill.

I have long been a fan of Ms. Keys music having seen her perform at Nelson’s Mandela’s birthday celebration on Mandela day and very recently at the Global Citizen event to fight poverty, but I am an even bigger fan of her humanitarian work and education efforts. Good luck to her, EMPOWERED, the Creative Arts Team at CUNY and the citizens of Harlem on their efforts.

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