Sixteen African-American organizations from the faith, media, civil rights and political sectors came together last week at a national Black leader’s AIDS strategic planning summit.

Convened by the Black AIDS Institute, The Balm in Gilead, and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the goal of the summit was to hammer out the foundation of a national action plan to stop AIDS in Black communities within the next five years. “Our goal is ambitious,” said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute. “But given the HIV/AIDS rates in Black America, anything less would be immoral.”

The 60 advocates who gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., rolled up their sleeves for three days (March 22- 24) to generate not just ideas but plans – and commitments – for making those ideas reality.

“Anyone can make a commitment to fight AIDS,” said Debra Fraser-Howze, president and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. “What’s unique about this effort is the scope of those commitments, and the fact that we are already moving from commitment to action.”

The summit comes just weeks after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study declaring Black women were 20 times more likely to test positive for HIV in 2005 than their white counterparts. Black men were 7 times more likely, the study said. We already know that Blacks account for roughly half of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS and more than half of all those newly infected each year. And a previous CDC study found 46 percent of the Black gay and bisexual men that researchers tested in seven major urban areas were infected.

Our community’s long-standing pillars have mobilized a coordinated response to this devastation. In August of 2006, 25 leading Black organizations convened at the global AIDS conference in Toronto and pledged to launch a “Marshall Plan” against AIDS. They agreed to reconvene this spring with other Black organizations and draft a national action plan to achieve their goals and objectives, and they convened this weekend’s meeting to follow through with that pledge. (See below for the list of participating organizations in last week’s meeting.)

The participants broke out into working groups to develop campaigns that leverage the unique skills and resources of each sector – the faith community, Black media, elected officials, and traditional civil rights and community-organizing groups. Each sector’s individual action plan shares the broad goals of:

• Reducing the rates of HIV infection among African Americans by half in five years;
• Increasing the percentage of African Americans who know their status, whether positive or negative;
• Increasing the number of HIV-positive Blacks who are in appropriate care and treatment;
• Eliminating the range of stigmas that have too long both fueled new infections and stood in the way of communal and individual action to stop AIDS.

“This mobilization is being embraced by of all sectors of the Black community, including our faith leaders,” said Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm in Gilead. “Since the virus has no respect of person, we can’t afford to leave anyone out.”

The coalition will unveil its overall national action plan in June 2007, in conjunction with National HIV Testing Day.

“We really need to scream from the rooftops that something needs to be done,” Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of Dallas’ Potter’s House church, said at the opening of this weekend’s summit. “We’re committed to saving lives without distinction. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you’re into. We care about you.”

Participants in the summit included:

100 Black Men of America
African Methodist Episcopal Church, Women’s Missionary Society
American Urban Radio Networks
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Metropolitan Interdenominational Church
National Action Network
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Black Caucus of State Legislators
National Black Justice Coalition
National Coalition of 100 Black Women
National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses
National Council of Negro Women
National Newspaper Publishers Association
National Urban League
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Inc.
Potter’s House & T.D. Jakes Ministries