In 2008, I had the incredible experience of attending the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City as a volunteer journalist in the media delegation convened by the Black AIDS Institute, the only think tank in the U.S. focused exclusively on Black people and HIV/AIDS. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, as I witnessed people from around the world convene to solve one of our time's most pressing problems. The display of humanity was amazing. In the same room you might find a scientist from Zimbabwe, a transgendered Spaniard, an Indian academic, a Ukranian intravenous drug user, a Japanese sex worker, an American mother -- I had never experienced anything like it.
Before I left for Mexico City (I have posted a couple of photos here), I had promised several friends that I would blog about my experience. I didn't. Overloaded with work (reporting on a daily deadline and ghostwriting for the Institute's president and CEO, Phill Wilson), exhausted by the 4-hour, 6-mile round-trip commute back and forth to our hotel -- if the pollution wasn't so bad, I could have walked it easily -- and I trying to engage and experience the conference. I just couldn't get it together. When I returned I learned that my friends were disappointed, so this time I promise to do better.
This year I will lead this delegation of journalists. Our goal is to report to the Black world, and particularly to Black Americans, scientific, sociological, epidemiological, etc., findings and learnings relevant to Black people, who are disproportionately affected by HIV (go here for African American stats). Funding has been withdrawn as the demographics of the disease have turned Black and Brown (including Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders in the U.S.). The mainstream media consistently overlooks our stories, which is not surprising given the lack of diversity in newsrooms. But in an increasingly interconnected world, the struggle to end HIV/AIDS in the United States is not and cannot be separated from the wellbeing of other people here at home and around the world. (I see an awful lot of interracial, intercultural and international relationships these days. You'd think that people who didn't care for humanitarian reasons might be concerned out of plain old self interest.) Black America's struggle to end the epidemic is connected to the struggles of other Black people, marginalized people -- often women, children, racial/ethnic and sexual minorities -- and poor people around the world. What affects one of us affects all of us. We are one -- or so I've been told.
Each day of the conference, we will publish the Black AIDS Weekly, an electronic newsletter I run for the Institute, to bring this information to public awareness. While on these pages I will share my personal observations and experiences, in hopes that I can inspire you to take better care of yourself (by practicing safer sex, for example, or by obtaining appropriate care and treatment if you are already HIV-positive); to require of your representatives, social, civic and religious leaders that they inform themselves about the epidemic and take the steps necessary to end it, not just in Black America, but in all of America and around the world; and to make the world smaller so that we can see that we share more in common than is different about us. I hope to post daily during the conference.