Changing the Course

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In the U.S. and Across the Diaspora, Healthy Black Communities Addresses Health Disparities, Including HIV/AIDS, Head-On
by Aaron J. Goodwin

Faint whispers of the late activist and visionary, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., continue to echo throughout the historic city of Atlanta, Georgia. These discreet intonations are embodied in organizations and individuals such as the community-based organization, Healthy Black Communities, Inc. (HBC), and its founder and CEO LaMont “Montee” Evans.

Montee recalls the words of his pastor when he was at the impressionable age of nine, “Look around [at the congregation/community], there’s not a train, bus, or plane load of folks on their way to save Black people; if we don’t take responsibility for one another —who will?!” Montee took these inspirational words to

LaMont "Montee" Evans, founder and CEO of Healthy Black Communities, Inc. Photo by Ijumo Hayward Photography

heart, literally. As Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Montee’s passion and visionary approach to meet the needs of the Black community has been actively perpetuated domestically throughout the country for over twenty years; internationally, since 2004.

Established in 2001, “our organization [HBC] appeals to a global Black community. We are unapologetically Black-focused in our service and program portfolio; however, we are not averse to working with other ethnicities, and we will never turn anyone away who needs assistance or wishes to aid our cause.” The primary focus of HBC is to contribute to the reduction of health disparities disproportionately impacting Black communities worldwide. HBC registered and set up operations in Ghana, West Africa, in 2005 and has replicated several social marketing campaigns in multiple regions of the country.

According to the August 2011 HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Blacks account for more new HIV infections, AIDS diagnoses, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.” As UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF 2011 global statistics estimate, out of the 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 22.9 million people are from the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, organizations like HBC that specifically cater to the needs of a global Black community are “definitely in high demand.”
HBC was founded based on three purposes: educational, social, and charitable. The organization is structured into four divisions, or Centers: the Center for Black Family Wellness; Center for Black Same Gender Loving Development; Center for International Excellence and the Center for Organization & Technology Development.

The Center for Black Family Wellness focuses on developing programs and services responsive to health disparities within the Black community (i.e., HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, suicide, homicide, teenage pregnancy, etc.). “Wellness” is a term Montee refined to broaden the approach of addressing health disparities inclusive of ten essential parts of the human experience: intellectual, physical, mental, spiritual, sexual, educational, emotional, political, financial and social.

The Center for Black Same Gender Loving Development focuses on developing programs and services responsive to mobilizing and improving the quality of life for Black same gender loving people.

The Center for International Excellence focuses on partnering with organizations outside the United States to share program initiatives adopted or proven concepts/strategies that will improve the quality of life for developing countries or marginalized communities outside the United States.

The Center for the Organization & Technology Development focuses on developing organizational and technological infrastructures that will assist in building programmatic and structural capacities to operate programs and services responsive to the needs of communities.

Montee emphasizes, “These Centers were developed based on the CDC’s organizational structure. There is not a need within the Black community that cannot be addressed through one of our four Centers.”

HBC has partnered with hundreds of local, regional, national and international organizations, including government, public, and private sector entities. The organization has also partnered with organizations in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, as well as Haiti (post-earthquake) to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

February 7, 2012 marks the twelfth year for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization

Stanislas Aurelien Bossou, Executive Director, NGO Le Soutien, and Evans shake hands after signing an International Memorandum of Agreement between Le Soutien and HBC to do work together around HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and testing in Cote d’Ivoire. Photo courtesy HBC—Ghana Office

initiative targeted at Blacks in the United States and the diaspora. “HBC has served as the lead organization since 2006 working with community stakeholders invested in HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing, and treatment in Black communities.” The official Web site for the initiative is www.blackaidsday.org and the 2012 theme is “Changing the course of HIV/AIDS, One Black Life at a Time!” In 2012, Montee became the national chairperson for the initiative.

NBHAAD has “four specific focal points: education, testing, involvement, and treatment.” The primary goal of NBHAAD is for Blacks to: get educated about HIV and know the transmission modes and how to protect oneself if they are sexually active; get tested so individuals will know and understand their HIV status; get involved with local community efforts; and get treated for those newly testing HIV-positive as well as those living with HIV to make February 7 their annual time to get a CD4 and viral load count.

Montee says, “Education is critical—it is time for Black America to have open conversations about sex and sexuality. Every one of us is here through the act of sex and we act like we can’t talk about it.” He continues, “A serious approach to sex education needs to be implemented throughout the Black community, with abstinence as a part of the dialogue, not exclusively a single subject.”

In an emphatic tone, Montee declares, “We can turn this epidemic around on a dime and reduce, if not eliminate, many of the destructive prejudices and misguided fears once we begin authentic conversations around sex, self-love, masculinity, and femininity.” One of our major problems when talking about HIV/AIDS is Black people tend to test late, and many times upon testing are immediately diagnosed with AIDS, which cuts short the lifespan of an individual if they do not have access to quality healthcare and treatment.

In addition to President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, more needs to be done. “We have to take a more proactive response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black communities and not sit around and expect for someone outside our community to address our concerns.” He continues, “It is heartbreaking to hear that young and old, brothers, sisters, and transgender individuals are dying alone with nobody there as they take their last breath. Everybody’s life has value and worth and nobody is disposable, no matter how different they are from us.”

Left to right: Dr. Kevin Fenton, director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP), CDC; Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General and director, NCPC; Dr. George Roberts, associate director for Prevention Partnerships, NCHHSTP, CDC; Evans; and Thishin Jackson, former member, CDC/HRSA Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention and Treatment came together at the HBO premiere of Life Support in Atlanta. HBC and HBO partnered to bring the film to ten cities in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Photo by Ijumo Hayward Photography

Montee states, “The greatest obstacle we have in meeting the community’s needs is lack of resources and support. Another challenge has been reaching a broader audience.” Montee suggests in order to address demands for resources “faith-based institutions, banks, businesses, corporations, and national partnerships should be formed and they must become involved in confronting HIV/AIDS and must support effective organizations.” He concludes: “The usage of social media sites has generated a significant response from a broader audience towards the awareness of health disparities that affect Black communities, what they can do, and the services offered at our organization.”

HBC has a vision to change the world; a vision to make history by confronting HIV/AIDS within the Black community head on, thereby leaving a legacy of triumph in its wake. Montee Evans implores those who are genuinely concerned about the destiny of Black people to get involved within their respective communities, regardless of their level of assistance, be it big or small. Everyone needs to take an active role in meeting the needs of their communities.

As Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The time for change is now, nothing comes to sleepers except dreams—let’s make ours a reality.

For more information on Healthy Black Communities, Inc., to make a donation, or lend your support, visit the organization’s Web site at www.hbc-inc.org, e-mail them at [email protected], or write them at: Healthy Black Communities, Inc., 964 Ralph David Abernathy, SW, Suite C-12, Atlanta, Georgia 30310-1833.

Aaron J. Goodwin is a freelance writer, and full-time Professional and Creative Writing student at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

February 2012