Agh! Passed by another billboard today that read: African Americans account for nearly half of the people living with HIV. You’ve seen them too. You hear the public service announcements on the radio, see the ads on television, even on the Internet. The message is loud and clear. Quite honestly, I cringe every time I read or hear it.
Many things run through my mind. My initial reaction like so many other people is: Are we the only ones getting tested, does that increase the statistic? Do we make up the great population of the pool of participants, does THAT increase the statistic? Are these people from a specific area in the country? Are they a specific age group? At an initial glance you’d never really know what these statistics are saying, on a billboard we’re presented with bits of information. But what I find most interesting is that when a statistic of any kind is introduced it’s often circulated as “the truth” when in reality it is a version of “truth” — I believe there’s a difference.
Statistical references and HIV billboards aside, there is a problem with health disparities and lack of resources within the African American community. Lack of access to proper healthcare facilities, lack of insurance coverage and the lack of seeking preventive medical services all contribute to a vicious cycle that leaves a significant portion of the African American community at a grave disadvantage. I started to write that there’s a lack of education and awareness but really there’s not. The air is saturated with literature, communities have started programs, monies are allocated for research, and I’m pretty sure there’s far more advocacy for HIV, diabetes, and heart disease then there were 10 years ago. So how do we bridge the gap between empowerment and education because the numbers have not changed? These conditions continue to be prevalent.
I’m not writing this to garner pity. No self respecting individual wants pity. I’m writing this to say in addition to getting the proper resources in place and re-education needed to combat these ills, a healthy disposition is probably the great weapon. When I say healthy disposition, I’ m not talking about self-esteem, I’m talking about a fundamental shift in the way we think. It’s deep-seeded. My grandparents grew up during a time when you just didn’t trust doctors. You just didn’t. But I believe that there are truths found in the words we speak and how we say them. Look around. There are countless expressions that encourage us to construct our thoughts around good intensions. The result of this action — the intentional thoughts — is that which we desire most.
I want to start an ad campaign that will put words of encouragement in all communities. I don’t mean knocking on people’s doors or creating an infusion of cheesy propaganda through brochures but a genuine gesture that will empower people making them realize that they own their power – a shifting of minds has to take place. So before I go down that path (and I’ll keep you posted), I wanted to offer 3 things you can do this week to shift your thinking:
- Re-think Your Worth. Your health is your greatest asset, period. Live like it is. Really check yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the images we see portrayed which bring about the perceived need to acquire things or live beyond our means or nip this and tuck that.
- Re-define Your Truth. Become a partner in your health care. You’ve heard this before. It’s true! Long gone are the days when communications about your health is a one way street. If you re-think your self-worth, I mean really do the work you can easily define your truth. Type 2 diabetes: not for me; hypertension: no thank you; HIV: not here. I’m not trivializing this, the mind is a powerful tool.
- Reach Out. Plant a seed by reaching out to the next generation. Talk to one young person about their well-being and the importance of owning their bodies. Tell them to tell their friends. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say something. You never know. . .
A heartfelt thank you to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the research of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and heart disease, these are causes that I care deeply about and the work you do helps in our understanding. Namaste.