There is no denying HIV/AIDS has devastated African-Americans; the evidence is daunting as the disease has penetrated families across income groups and in communities large and small. Blacks represent 14% of the nation’s population but accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2009 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 2006-2009 young Black men having sex with other men were the only risk group in the United States to experience a significant increase in new HIV infections. CDC data also points to the impact of HIV/AIDS in southern communities, with some states in the south ranking high for the rate of adult and adolescent Blacks living with a diagnosis of HIV infection. The impact of HIV/AIDS is beyond a crisis point, and threatens to have a plague like effect upon the African-American community in the decades to come.
It is why Addie Lisby, a registered nurse, is leading an effort in Charlotte, North Carolina to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is working with the faith-based community to raise awareness. Working with Project SAVED, a capacity building faith-based initiative developed by the Center for AIDS health Disparity Research at Meharry Medical College, Lisby has been a coordinator of community efforts to address the disease dating back to her days working with the Consumer Health Resources Information Services (CHRIS), an initiative started in Knoxville, Tennessee to address minority health disparities. Lisby is a member of the Southern Regional Engagement Team out of the Meharry initiative. She has worked to devise ways to use the CHRIS model to implement effective health ministries in churches and her work has led her to coordinate a unique program that will take place in Charlotte with the cooperation of area churches.
On December 3 at the Rockwell A.M.E. Zion Church in Charlotte at 10:00 a.m. a mock funeral service will be held to symbolically bid farewell and bury HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. The event is sponsored by the Center on AIDS Health Disparity Research of Meharry Medical College and Project SAVED, the CHRIS coalition of churches in the Charlotte area, and the faith-based community of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg metropolitan region.
“There are 1.1 million HIV positive persons living in the South. African-American women have been impacted and one of the primary causes has been Black men having unprotected sex with other men,” notes Lisby. Her observations reflect the statistics recorded by the Centers for Disease Control. “The event on December 3 is meant to put a face on the disease,” added Lisby, “and will be conducted just like a real funeral with a full service, viewing of “the body” and proper burial.”
According to Lisby, individuals attending the event will be able to sign a memorial book and a viewing will begin at 10:00 a.m. as mourners will peer into an open casket that will have a mirror that reflects their image to bring home the point that HIV/AIDS affects everyone. There will be a processional and the program will include proclamations from government leaders and presentations of the “Faces of HIV” with representation by a senior citizen, young adult, an HIV positive male and the “deceased” speaking from the casket to the audience. On the walls of the church a special computer generated image will chime every 9 and one half minutes to demonstrate the interval in which someone is diagnosed with HIV in the United States. A formal eulogy will be delivered by the Rev. Luke Curry, a longtime HIV/AIDS advocate and the conference director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative of the Western North Carolina District of the A.M.E. Zion Church. Following the recessional the public will walk across the street to a burial “plot” with a headstone that will be inscribed with the epitaph “Thank God Almighty HIV is Dead” and will have a mirror on its face so it will reflect those who gaze upon it. Those who came to pay their respect will be able to place red ribbons on a wreath that will then travel to churches throughout the city to send the message that it is time to bury HIV/AIDS.
While the funeral is symbolic and meant to draw attention to the need to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the intent of the program is substantive and will be the start of a longer term campaign by the faith-based community to focus on preventive measures. One key component will be the inclusion of an evaluation form in the funeral program as a data collection tool that will then be sent to Meharry Medical College.
Rockwell A.M.E. Zion Church is located at 6101 Rockwell Church Boulevard in Charlotte. For information contact Addie Lisby at (865) 712-8692 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corrected version on November 15, 2011 to reflect data on diagnosis of HIV in the United States.