When Tangy Major’s two-month-old son developed a cough, she thought that it was just a bad cold. Four months later, he died as yet another victim of the AIDS epidemic.
Major, who has AIDS, spoke at the opening ceremony of Sankofa and the Black Student Union’s (BSU) second annual AIDS Awareness Week. Tuesday marked National Black AIDS Awareness Day and the release of chilling new reports on the devastation of AIDS in the black community.
According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of all those diagnosed with AIDS are black and AIDS is the number one killer of young black women in the United States.
In 2003, the reports indicated that around one million Americans live with HIV/AIDS, with 24 to 27 percent unaware that they have it. Worldwide, an estimated 40.3 million people are afflicted, with 60 percent of these people living in sub-Saharan Africa.
“This is a serious matter – there’s no going around it,” Sonya Spann, sophomore history major and the publicist of Sankofa, said. “(HIV/AIDS) is just as prevalent in the U.S. as in Africa, especially in urban areas.”
Major told her story to warn others of the dangers of the virus and insisted that it is not a hopeless death sentence.
Major contracted HIV from her boyfriend, a former drug addict, in 1989, when she was a 22-year-old attending Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She became pregnant and eventually married him. Her baby, Isaiah, was sick almost from birth and was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS at five months. The same weekend, Major and her husband were tested and found out that they too had the virus.
“I thought being pregnant was the worst of my problems,” Major said. “But I was facing something much more devastating.”
Isaiah died in the hospital the one night Major decided to go home to get a good night’s sleep.
“I didn’t think I wanted to live anymore,” she said. “My life was muddling all together, and I was dying within.”
She and her husband, Lawrence, moved to Philadelphia in 1992. It was at that time that her husband fell ill, and she spent the next four years caring for him until his death in 1996. Major credits her strong faith in God with helping her through this difficult time and allowing her to meet her second husband, Marvin.
She and Marvin were able to successfully conceive a child without HIV through in vitro fertilization. Her daughter, Kayla, is now two years old and still virus-free.
Major urged audience members to be responsible in order to remain HIV/AIDS-free.
“Make conscious decisions to be honest and safe with yourself,” she said. “Some decisions aren’t reversible.”
Various campus groups, including Sankofa, BSU, Uni?n Latina and various fraternities and sororities, set up tables
with AIDS information, free condoms and food at the event. There were also raffles, with the proceeds benefiting the Duly House in Camden, a charitable organization that houses children with AIDS, and a performance by the hip-hop dance team Flow.
Major’s story captivated audience members.
A sense of social activism stirred within others. Asia Nabarro, a member of the Lambda Tau Omega sorority, manned a table with petitions to international governments, asking for more support in the crusade against the virus.
“The government is not keeping their promise to help fight AIDS. They need to work harder because we’re working hard as well,” the sophomore elementary education/women’s and gender studies major said.
Fellow sorority member Giselle Herrera agreed. “They haven’t done what they’ve promised,” the senior finance major said. “By 2005, HIV/AIDS was supposed to decrease by 25 percent in young people and that hasn’t happened.”
The two refer to a 2001 session of the United Nations General Assembly, when most countries agreed to reduce the prevalence of the virus among young people, as well as spread information concerning HIV/AIDS to over 90 percent of youth between ages 15 and 24.
However, according to the nonprofit group Interact Worldwide, about half of all new HIV infections occur in young people. Every minute, six youths become HIV positive and many remain ignorant on how to protect themselves against the virus.
Sankofa and BSU continued the fight against HIV/AIDS all week long with free 20-minute HIV testing on Tuesday. The week concluded with a program called “Let’s Talk about AIDS,” where they showed a short film on AIDS, followed by a discussion on the virus’ effects on the black community.