Browsing Category: Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts

Overcoming Societal Barriers to Fight HIV

by Mary Lou Moreno
Coordinator, Border AIDS Partnership, El Paso, TX
Member, National AIDS Fund Board of Trustees

My name is Mary Lou Moreno. I am Coordinator of the Border AIDS Partnership in El Paso, Texas. I am also a member of the Board of Trustees of the National AIDS Fund. I want to share with you today why the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign is so such an important initiative, and why it is so close to my heart. The money raised by this campaign will be directed solely toward communities of color, like the one I belong to, so that they can continue to support programs that fight HIV/AIDS in their respective communities. I can testify firsthand how important such assistance can be for communities such as mine.

About twenty years ago my youngest son tested HIV positive. He was 30 years old at the time. Fortunately, he has remained completely asymptomatic in the last two decades. He is a very positive individual and does everything possible to help himself and everyone around him.

Of course, when I first found out, I was devastated—back then, people didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS and it seemed like a death sentence. I started trying to learn everything I could about the disease, and have since been involved in working toward HIV/AIDS education and awareness in my community – largely through the Border AIDS Partnership, which I helped establish. We’re the only partnership that’s bi-national and tri-state: we have been providing funding for HIV/AIDS education and prevention activities in El Paso, Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The money we receive from the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign will be invaluable in allowing us to continue doing this work.

It is an uphill battle. We’re funding some of the poorest communities and a number of migrants. In El Paso, we’re primarily a community of color – pretty much Hispanic and Catholic. Our culture is different from a lot of other communities in the country. Twenty years ago especially, it wasn’t acceptable to talk about HIV/AIDS or about homosexuality. I’ll give you an example from my personal life. Our family ran a photographic business in our town. When my son and my stepson came out as being gay, we started working for various HIV/AIDS groups and organizations but didn’t talk too much about any of it in the community because we didn’t know how it would affect our livelihood.

Then one day, the steeple on El Paso’s only Catholic cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, was struck by lightning. One of the church members wrote a letter to the local newspaper, saying that this happened because of the church’s growing tolerance for gay people. There was an editorial in the paper about it that week – it was awful. That’s when my husband decided that it was time for us to do something about it. He talked to our boys and said he was going to appear on a talk show and take a stand – he would tell the world that his son and stepson are gay and that we support them fully. Our sons were all right with it. So, my husband and a very good friend of ours, a Catholic priest, went on the show together and talked about the Catholic Church being supportive of all God’s children. They emphasized that God created us all, and He doesn’t make any mistakes. As it turned out, it didn’t affect most of our customers. My husband got many positive calls, and very few negative ones from people who said they wouldn’t be doing business with us – which is fine because we don’t care to be doing business with people like them either!

Of course, it is very hard to change people’s views – some you do and some you don’t. Some Hispanic parents find it very hard to accept they have a gay son or a lesbian daughter. But there is always the possibility of change. After my son tested positive for HIV, my husband and I became active members of a national organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) for a long time. All kinds of people would come and speak at those meetings – ministers who talked about accepting your children and about how to deal with HIV/AIDS, psychologists who’d talk about how homosexuality is not a choice but something you’re born with…. Sometimes, there would be a couple that wouldn’t be able to talk at the meetings. In those situations, we’d meet them either at their home or at a coffee place. My husband and I would tell them that we belong to a Catholic Hispanic community. Still, we both have sons who are gay and we have accepted it, and one of our sons is HIV positive and we are dealing with it. So we’d speak from our own experience and try to get the point across. Like I said, sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t.

Over the last two decades, things have become much better in El Paso, thanks to the efforts of extraordinary individuals and organizations that have been working to spread awareness and acceptance. Which is why I am terribly proud to support the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign – a campaign that is helping raise funds for these community-based groups so that they can continue doing their outstanding work. From my personal experience, I know what an uphill battle it is for families and individuals dealing with HIV/AIDS – socially, economically, physically… Each one of us can make a difference; each one of us can help make this fight just a little bit easier.

Creating the Right Message for Women of Color

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice

by Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD
Executive Director and Dean
Center for Women’s Health Research
Meharry Medical College
Nashville, TN
Chair, Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts

As a member of the National AIDS Fund Board of Trustees, I am proud to be associated with the the organization’s work, and especially with the Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts campaign. When you look at the risk of HIV in this country, you begin to clearly recognize that the some of the people most impacted are women of color. Black women constituted about 63% of all new cases in the U.S. in 2005. To put it another way, if you were to look at the demographic of new cases per 100,000 women in this country, here is what you would find: 45.9/100.000 black; 13.8/Hispanic; and only 2/100,000 white. These statistics apply for women between 18 to 40 years of age.

Why are women of color so disproportionately affected? The fact is, there have always been a disproportionate number of black people being affected, even in the early 90’s when AIDS was thought of as a gay white man’s disease. What has happened is that while we’ve seen a significant decrease in the death and prevalence in the white population, we haven’t seen the same in the black population. Part of this is because of lack of access to treatment, and the second part of it is that heterosexual contact is the number one way that black women are becoming HIV positive. And even though we don’t like to talk about this, this goes all the way back to men being in prison. The highest percentage of people in prison are black men. They become positive in prison, and then spread the disease to women. In many cases, black women are involved without even knowing they are at risk.

So when we talk about how to make a difference, we can not underestimate how important education is toward prevention. We especially know that we have to make sure we’re creating the right message for women of color. So, the Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts initiative is going to raise dollars that will be directed to communities of color — especially women in those communities — around education and prevention.

“You’ve Got to Help in Any Way, Form, or Fashion That You Can”

Dr. Celia Maxwell

Dr. Celia Maxwell

by Celia J. Maxwell MD, FACP
Assistant Vice President, Health Sciences
Director, Women’s Health Institute
Howard University
Washington, D.C.

As a member of the Board of Trustees of the National AIDS Fund, I want to talk today about why the Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts campaign is so close to my heart, and why I think it is such an important initiative. The goal of this campaign is to raise money from and for communities of color so that they can support programs that fight HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.

I began my career as an infectious disease physician 27 years ago. This is when AIDS was known as the “gay cancer,” when physicians turned away patients out of fear, and people thought they could contract the disease from mosquito bites or from sharing the same swimming pool. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS and have seen the disease transform from a fatal illness to a chronic disease. But, through it all, one case right at the beginning of my career stands out and is responsible for my commitment to eradicating this disease.

This was in the 1980s and my patient was a young 26-year-old woman of color. She had done everything “right” – gone to college, had a good education, and a good job. The only thing she did “wrong” was have unprotected sex with a man that she didn’t know was at risk. I remember, the patient was the child of older parents, who were in their seventies when I met them. By that time their daughter was comatose, and the father would sit beside his child’s tube-riddled body and weep. He couldn’t believe that this had happened to his baby girl. That was a watershed moment for me. I could never shake it… he was weeping because he didn’t know what else to do. This was his baby, he was supposed to save his baby, and she was dying. I never forgot that. The moment resonated because I have just one child, a daughter also. I could feel his helplessness, how easily that could have been me. I’ve had more than a thousand patients, but this one has stayed with me all these many years, and will probably stay with me till the day that I die. As a mother, as a parent, that was the moment when I said, “You know what, you’ve got to help in any way, form, or fashion that you can.”

Educating My Community, Preventing HIV

Mary Lou Morenoby Mary Lou Moreno
Coordinator, Border AIDS Partnership, El Paso, TX
Member, National AIDS Fund Board of Trustees

I have been involved in working toward HIV/AIDS education and awareness for twenty years now, much of it focused on communities of color.  As a woman of color myself, I am honored to talk today about an initiative at the National AIDS Fund that is very close to my heart – “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts.”   HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect communities of color in the United States so the goal of this campaign is to raise money from and for communities of color so that they can support programs that fight HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.

The Border AIDS Partnership is one such program that will have the opportunity to benefit from this initiative. Funds given to the Border AIDS partnership are directed toward HIV/AIDS education and prevention activities in El Paso, Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The groups we grant funding to are involved in a plethora of activities. They go out to schools and speak to young people during their health education periods to educate them about HIV/AIDS. They have a great website to raise awareness – they adopt all kinds of innovative measure to reach the youth.

Some of these groups are comprised of women volunteers, who go out to outlying regions, right to the homes of women who can’t really get out for these kinds of things. It’s really making a difference – educating those women, testing them for HIV at home itself … I think when you don’t have that much money and you are working in one of the poorest regions in the country, then you are forced to work harder and to be innovative. I mean, look at these women. They essentially took the concept of an Avon sales lady going to her customers’ houses to sell products, and they tweaked this model to suit their requirement – that of fighting HIV/AIDS.

We have 10-11 grantee programs, all of which are doing excellent work. One that stands out in my mind is a youth group – TAB-CARES. “TAB” stands for teen advisory board. It’s part of the University Medical Center of El Paso. They’re doing such a great job. All these young people are reaching out to other youth to help prevent behaviors that put them at risk of HIV infection.

I have witnessed many young people dying from AIDS – I was there and I saw them go. The multiple organizations I have mentioned today are working tirelessly to reach more people, to educate them, to raise awareness, and to tell our youth that if they’re going to have sex outside of marriage, then it is imperative to practice safe sex. With the added help from the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign, I feel confident that we will be able to continue working together to achieve our ultimate goal – the elimination of HIV/AIDS.