Community observes National Black HIV/AIDS Day

Gathering to raise awareness draws over 100

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

More than 100 people gathered marking National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at JET’ADORE in West Memphis Saturday. The five hour event organized by Community Connector Melvin Watson featured information booths and a wide array of speakers under the banner slogan “I am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV AIDS.” Exhibitors lined up for support included ARCARE, the Arkansas Department of Health, LINQ of Little Rock, Onie Taylor, and Anthony Hardaway was represented through Friends of Life. Music selections included instrumentals and song by musician Ekpe, the Black National Anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing done in congregation, and a performance of God Bless America sung by Alice Hancock. After a moment of silence Emcee Teia Handy introduced speakers and worked smooth transitions between a dozen presentations. Event producer Watson said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “The message we want to get out to the community is to get checked,” said Watson. “Too many people are worried about bad news or the cost of expensive medicine but putting it off only makes it worse. I am trying to connect people to health care.” Health care information, facts and figures about HIV/AIDS in general and among the Black community in particular were brought by Cornelius Mabin an Arkansas Health Department Community Connector from Little Rock. Rubye Johnson represented the NAACP and West Memphis City Councilwoman Helen Harris preached awareness and morality. Quorum Court Justice Hubert Bass spoke and Rev. James Reynolds of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church preached, his first point being abstinence. Author and poet Cynthia Cotton Cheatham highlighted the event delivering an extremely positive testimony as an AIDS survivor and read a poem from her book Hope in the Valley: HIV is Just the Beginning. According to Cheatham it all began when her late husband came home and told her she needed to be checked for HIV/AIDS. Feeling betrayed she wanted to know why and how this came to be. When the results came back positive Cheatham aggressively pursued treatment. “Twenty-three years ago I sat awaiting my HIV test results,” said Cheatham. “I am sure he said more but all I heard was, Cynthia you are HIV positive. My hopes, dreams and teaching career shattered. I soon realized that I can choose to let HIV define me, confine me, refine me, outshine me, or I can choose to move forward and leave it behind me. My latest test results said my HIV was undetectable.” That wasn’t the only complication in her saga. She was pregnant and anxiously awaited test results after delivering her now 13-year-old daughter, Raven. “She was HIV free,” said Cheatham as she introduced her daughter to the audience. As for testing Cheatham warned not to be naive. “You need to understand this young people, not everybody is going to tell you the truth,” said Cheatham. “They may say ‘I am a virgin.’ Get yourself tested anyway.” Asked why a Black Awareness Day instead of an everybody awareness event Cheatham insisted, “This is word needs to get out. AIDS is running through the Black community. Many regard this as a homosexuals’ disease. But in the Black community it is effecting everyone.”

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