The scourge that is HIV, which causes AIDS, is a danger to all – but African Americans are particularly vulnerable.
Compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS, according to statistics compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It estimated that, unless behaviors change, 1 in 16 African American men and 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection at some point in their lifetimes.
Researchers found the rate of HIV infection for African American women is 20 times that of Caucasian women and five times that of Hispanic women. Nearly 90 percent of their new infections come through heterosexual contact.
Determined to raise awareness about the disease, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recently hosted the screening of powerful documentary, Women at Risk: Black Women and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, before a standing-room-only crowd at Charles R. Drew University’s Keck Auditorium.
The event also included a panel discussion as well as a roving art exhibit from the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign, which show real people living with the disease in a normal and positive light.
“It is time that we come together and educate ourselves and work together, across organizational boundaries to have real discussions about HIV and the high rates in our communities,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the audience.
The 25-minute documentary tells the stories of four women, including three in Los Angeles, who live with HIV. It was directed by the award-winning independent documentary filmmaker Valerie Cummings, an associate professor of broadcast journalism at the University of La Verne, who provided the preview trailer above.
“To reach black women who are at risk for HIV, we need to use every tool in our arsenal,” she said. “A film such as Women at Risk is effective because it speaks directly to you, it is visual, it tells a story of women who are relatable, and all one has to do is receive it.”
“Together with the panel discussion and art exhibit, it opens people’s eyes to the fact that HIV can and does affect black women from all walks of life, and that heterosexual men are not immune and need to be a part of the conversation,” she added.
The documentary explored some misconceptions about one’s vulnerability to infection. In one scene, HIV-infected Bridget Gordon said, “I really didn’t feel like I fell into a high-risk classification because I wasn’t promiscuous, doing IV drugs, or dating people that were having sex with men…or so I thought.”
Sandra Rogers, a supervising public health investigator with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Public Health, has been running an HIV support group for African American women for a few years and knows their struggles.
“We have to tell the women about the risk that is out there, with partners coming out of prison, the high rate of men not telling their partners that they are bisexual or have experimented with men in the past, and how important empowerment and prevention is in the life of African American women and women of color,” she said.
The audience at the event included human trafficking victims; high schoolers from the Los Angeles Unified School District; Charles Drew and CalState LA university students and staff; health workers; members of religious organizations; and health advocates. The Empowerment Congress and the Magic Johnson Foundation cosponsored the event with the Supervisor.