Alpha Kappa Alpha promotes HIV/AIDS awareness in minority communities

An HIV/AIDS panel, hosted by the Central and South Jersey Chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in the Don Evans Black Box Theater on Nov. 14, focused on the fact that a disproportionate number of people infected with HIV and AIDS are minorities as well as methods of promoting prevention awareness.

Introductory speaker Trina Gipson-Jones, Presidential Fellow of Rutgers University’s College of Nursing, said that stressors involved in being a minority, such as social stigma and isolation, may lead to depression, which in turn often increases the occurrence of high-risk behaviors. “All of these factors increase the stress felt by these individuals, especially if living in poverty,” Gipson-Jones said.

Christopher Coleman, Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, challenged the audience to take action to help prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. “We’ve got to do something about this,” Coleman said. “We have to come together as a community and be strong, because then we can defeat HIV.”

Laurence Ganges, Assistant Commissioner for the Division of HIV/AIDS Services of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, offered statistics to the audience. “8,000 people are going to die from HIV disease today. Tomorrow, 8,000 people are going to die from HIV disease,” Ganges said. “One out of 64 African-American New Jerseyans compared to one out of 157 white New Jerseyans are living with HIV.”

“80 percent of the individuals walking around in this state with HIV and AIDS are African-American and Latino,” Ganges said. “One of my problems is that we’re too darn calm about it.”

In addition to the informative and thought-provoking speeches, the audience received pink “goody bags” featuring male and female condoms, dental dams and instructional brochures.

“If you’ve got to do it, do it, but be safer,” Ganges said. The other panelists also addressed the importance of safe sex.

“It’s very important that you take care of yourselves,” Martina Crespo, the event’s personal experience panelist, said. After being diagnosed with HIV herself, Crespo dedicated herself to reaching out to others in the community.

The Rev. Stanley Justice of Trenton’s Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church discussed the option of abstinence. “You don’t have to drop it like it’s hot,” Justice said. “Have respect for your body. There’s a sacredness in your own body that you have to keep in mind.”

One of the other main points addressed by all of the panelists was the essentiality of education and speaking out about prevention.

“You don’t want to talk about sex. You don’t want to talk about drugs. You don’t want to talk about changing your behavior. You have to,” Ganges said. “This is preventable.”

“You can be the primary carriers of information,” Justice said. “You have got to implement what you’ve heard here and what you already know.”

“I think you need to be an advocate for yourself and for others,” Crespo said.

Susan Albertine, Dean of the School of Culture and Society, added closing remarks. “This is an event of great hope and importance, a time of honesty and sharing, and I’m proud that the College could host it.”

The event was moderated by Gloria Dickinson, Centennial International Regional Director and Willingboro Chapter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Soriority, Inc.