Church Leaders to Declare HIV/AIDS State of Emergency in African-American Community During Annual Prayer Week
The 13th Annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, sponsored by the Balm in Gilead, began yesterday and will continue through March 9 in an effort to mobilize black churches to "become centers for AIDS education and compassion" (Balm in Gilead Web site, 3/4). During the week, local and national church leaders are expected to call for declaration of a national state of emergency concerning the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African-American community (National Minority AIDS Council release, 11/19/01). AIDS is the leading cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 25 and 44, and African Americans represent 50% of new HIV cases in the United States each year, although they make up only 13% of the total U.S. population (Jenkins, Akron Beacon Journal, 3/1). The rate of infection among African Americans is more than twice that of Hispanics and eight times greater than the rate of infection among whites (Balm in Gilead Web site, 3/1). But Rev. Ronald Fowler of Arlington Church of God in Akron, Ohio, said, "There is still a strong sense of denial about this disease. Some think it's more exaggerated in the black community. I don't know about that, but I know there is denial, and it tends to be associated with a certain lifestyle (promiscuity, homosexuality) that churches don't promote" (Akron Beacon Journal, 3/1). Balm in Gilead founder Pernessa Seele said that the "sheer size of the [HIV/AIDS] problem" has caused an "about face" for black churches. "Everybody knows someone who has HIV or died from AIDS, or has a friend or family member with HIV/AIDS," Seele said, adding, "Ministers can't ignore that half of the choir died from AIDS" (Richardson, New York Daily News, 3/4). Modeled after the "groundbreaking" Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, which is supported by 72 HIV/AIDS organizations and health departments, is now the largest AIDS awareness program specifically geared toward African Americans (Balm in Gilead Web site, 3/1).
The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report has compiled the following list of events, alphabetized by city or county, taking place around the nation in recognition of the Black Church Week of Prayer:
- Battle Creek, Mich.: The Battle Creek Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority on March 9 will host a community forum at the Ann J. Kellogg Elementary School that will include a panel of HIV/AIDS educators and medical experts. The program also will include free, confidential HIV testing by health professionals (Battle Creek Enquirer, 2/24).
- Boston, Mass.: The New England HIV Education Consortium on Jan. 30 hosted a luncheon for area churches to discuss plans for the Black Church Week of Prayer. For more information, call 617-450-1646 (NEHEC Web site, 3/4).
- Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: The Akron AIDS Collaborative Sixth Annual Prayer Breakfast for the Healing of HIV/AIDS featuring Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to take place March 8 at the Cathedral Buffet and Banquet Center. For more information, call 330-849-0697 (Akron Beacon Journal, 3/1).
- Gaston County, N.C.: The Gaston County Community HIV/AIDS Task Force is sponsoring activities throughout the week at four area churches. Friendship Baptist Church will hold a service at 7 p.m. March 5; Emmanuel Baptist Church will hold a fellowship service at 7 p.m. March 6.; Pleasant Ridge AME Zion Church will host a gospel concert featuring "No Harm To Praise" at 6 p.m. March 9; and Mount Moriah Baptist Church will host a "youth night" at 6 p.m. March 11. For more information, call 704-853-5138 (Breen et al., Charlotte Observer, 2/27).
- Guilford County, N.C.: Temple Memorial Baptist Church hosted a public worship service yesterday where HIV-positive individuals shared their stories with the congregants. The church also planned to offer free HIV testing all day yesterday (Hayes, Greensboro News & Record, 2/24).
- Houston: The Houston Department of Health and Human Services and the Urban AIDS Ministry Task Force have encouraged the involvement of Houston area churches in the week's events. The organizations' recommendations included focusing on HIV/AIDS at March 3 worship services, sponsoring an educational program during the week and providing information on HIV/AIDS to church members (HDHHS release, 1/29).
- Philadelphia, Pa.: The American Red Cross' HIV/AIDS awareness program, "Gathering Places," held a "pastoral breakfast" on March 1. For more information on the week's events, call 215-299-4042 or 215-213-5385 (Associated Press, 2/28).
- Pittsburgh, Pa.: A variety of activities, coordinated by the program Reach, Act, Provide Health Awareness, will take place in Pittsburgh throughout the week, including a community forum on developing and sustaining HIV/AIDS outreach and a workshop to teach church ministries to "use messages of education, prevention and faith" in response to HIV/AIDS. A complete listing of the week's activities is available online through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. For more information, call 412-665-0380 (Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/1).
- Portland, Ore.: Allen Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church yesterday held an interfaith worship service that included prayers for those with HIV/AIDS. Thirty area churches were invited to participate in the event, which also included a group reading of a "call to commitment," where readers commit to be "compassion[ate]" and "respond" to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the African-American community (Lawton, Portland Oregonian, 3/2).
- San Mateo County, Calif.: Twenty-five churches in the county will be holding prayer vigils and sermons, leading marches and hosting talks by HIV-positive individuals, health experts and community leaders (Louie, San Mateo County Times, 3/1).
- St. Louis, Mo.: Scheduled events include a march for AIDS, a dramatic performance illustrating the impact of HIV/AIDS on African-American youth, a health fair and a community HIV/AIDS forum (Shelton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/3). A listing of the events is available online through the Post-Dispatch.
- Tacoma, Wash.: Events during the week will include a free HIV/AIDS forum, "Our Sister's Keeper," sponsored by the Tacoma Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on March 9. A complete listing of events is available online or for more information on events in Tacoma, call 253-383-2565 (Pierce County AIDS Foundation Web Site, 3/4).