Allen Temple promotes education, prevention on World AIDS Day
on December 2, 2010
Oakland brought World AIDS Day, recognized globally every December 1, to the local level on Wednesday with an evening of recognition at Allen Temple Baptist Church. Members of local health nonprofits, activists and concerned neighbors gathered at the East Oakland house of worship to trade information and to shine a spotlight on a disease that has plagued this city and many others for decades. The evening featured speakers, musical performances, free information packets and contraception, followed by a free barbecue dinner for every attendee.
Organized by event coordinator Alone Clifton, the program took place in the church’s auditorium, and was emceed by radio host and comedian Donald Lacy of station KPOO. Lacy initially kept things light, kicking things off with a sampling of his stand-up comedy. “I go back to old Oakland, when Oakland was the best black city in the country,” Lacy said. “The real Oakland, when the Raiders used to win the Super Bowl!”
Lacy focused much of his oration on the importance of being tested for HIV. Overall, this was the message of the evening: know your HIV status, get the help you need, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Oakland has the highest incidence of AIDS in Alameda County—55 to 64 percent of people diagnosed each year in the county are Oakland residents. In 1998, local officials deemed the spread of HIV/AIDS in the city so serious that they declared a state of emergency.
Allen Temple acts both locally and globally when it comes to the AIDS epidemic—the church has a prominent AIDS ministry that does work in the community and abroad. The Oakland Collaborative branch of the ministry works on education and testing at home, and Allen Temple also supports the Mother of Peace Community home for HIV-positive children in Zimbabwe. The church prides itself on being one of the first African-American churches in the nation to acknowledge and respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Wednesday night’s event included opportunities for several people affected by HIV to speak from the stage. After a moment of silent prayer for all the victims of AIDS worldwide, Lacey introduced Marilyn Lawson, whose six-year-old granddaughter was born with HIV. In a quivering voice Lawson, who started the Tahara Lawson Foundation, which supports AIDS prevention and awareness efforts in Oakland, spoke about the hardships her granddaughter faces, namely the stigma she deals with in her community due to her HIV positive status.
Lawson described watching children refuse to play with her granddaughter, and a school administrator’s ignorance on the subject of AIDS. “In those moments, I felt that we had dropped the ball. I felt we had fallen asleep. I also felt it was time to wake up,” said Lawson. “My keeping silent is not going to protect my granddaughter. My speaking out will help her, and help families in our community to be educated.”
Lawson’s granddaughters — Tahara’s two older sisters — echoed her sentiments, and then passed the mic to Jesse Brooks, an Oakland native who has been living with HIV for 18 years. Brooks revisited the days in the early 1990s when AIDS was a death sentence, and when many of his loved ones, including his brother, succumbed to it. He, too, addressed the stigma that still lingers.
“To look at me, I could be any brother on the street. Take a closer look,” he said. “People ask, ‘What does HIV look like?’ It looks like me.” Brooks closed with a simple piece of advice. “The best thing you can do for yourself is get tested, and be open about your status. Silence equals death.”
Several community organizations manned brochure-laden stalls in the back of the room, but perhaps the most striking set-up of the evening were the two mobile testing centers set up at the corner of 86th Avenue and International Boulevard, just outside of Allen Temple. There, event co-sponsor California Prevention and Education Project (Cal-PEP) offered free HIV testing from 6-9 p.m. Cal-PEP was founded in San Francisco 27 years ago to provide sex workers with prevention information about sexually transmitted disease.
“This disease is a huge part of our community,” said Cal-PEP employee Jamila Shipp from the stage. “And people down here are the ones who don’t have as many opportunities to be tested.”
Other groups and nonprofits hosting booths at the event included The National Coalition for One-Hundred Black Women, an organization that works on collaboration, scholarship and female empowerment; Boss of Me, a group focused on dialing down drama in teenage friendships and relationships; and Health Initiative for Youth, or Hi-Fy, which provides young people with sexual health education.
East Oakland Youth Development Center also had a table, and community liaison Jackie Anderson spoke to the vital nature of AIDS education and prevention. “If our young people are not aware of their health, then they can’t excel in any area of their life,” she said. “It’s a hard subject to talk about, but it’s very important that we do. East Oakland is one of the hardest hit areas.”
Allen Temple will hold a concert this Saturday night at 5 p.m. as a second tribute to World AIDS Day. The show will include performances by Charlene Moore, Gene Viale, and The Ambassadors. For more details, visit Allen-Temple.org.
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