Just*in Time: December 2016

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Dear Brother Justin—

Greetings of peace and may this letter find you well and richly spiritually blessed. My name is Asar and I’m presently locked down inside of this slave ship on dry land for making an unwise choice in my life. However, since I’ve been here (six years) I’ve taken positive advantage of the many self-help programs. My biggest gain has been my earning a doctorate degree in comparative religious studies.

I’m writing because I came across an old issue of A&U Magazine (February 2016) and I read that you are studying for your doctorate in public health. By the way, I’m an HIV/AIDS peer counselor here at the prison and I’m in dire need of some African-centered intervention materials. In addition, why are our people in such denial about HIV/AIDS? How do we get Black folks to deal with reality? Do our people suffer from some psychological block of some kind? Are we suffering from some kind of psychosis?

Maybe these questions might be the basis for your dissertation? But in all seriousness, do you have some papers that have been written by Afrocentric psychologists that deal with these issues and possible solutions to this crisis? Perhaps you know of an African-centered HIV/AIDS organization or Black psychologist that is or has done research in this area?
—In Solidarity,
Brother Asar

Brother Asar,

Thank you so much for writing in. Let me first start out by saying thank you for having the courage of being an HIV Counselor, which I’m sure it is harder being institutionalized while trying to give hope and resources to HIV-positive clients, and I’m glad you are taking advantage of the many self-help programs. Congratulations on earning your doctorate degree in comparative religious studies.

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.

There are many reasons why African Americans could be in such denial about HIV. There is still a mistrust of the government, dating back to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. The U.S. Public Health Service partnered with the Tuskegee Institute in a clinical study which enrolled 600 black men from 1932 to 1972 and violated medical and scientific ethics; 399 were infected with syphilis and 201 were not infected with syphilis (“Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”). The researchers told the participants that they were being treated for “bad blood.” None of the participants were properly treated for syphilis, even though penicillin had been known to treat syphilis since 1947, less than halfway through the study.

Alongside mistrust, there is also a lack of education and shaming when it comes to a person becoming HIV, as if they had done something wrong to become infected. Homosexuality continues to be condemned by the Black church; this is very detrimental since the church has long since been a steeple in the black community since slavery. The issue that might need to be addressed is acceptance and education. Once people of the black community start accepting the people who are HIV-positive or those who are more at risk of becoming HIV, then they can become educated on prevention and the detriment of shame and stigma.

We must understand that African-American ancestors were once slaves and were assimilated into thinking, from a Christian confine, that anything that is different from the Bible is wrong. That kind of mentality has given our community a block to not accept or educate itself as to why we have such an issue on HIV.

Some of the helpful resources that instantly come to mind are materials prepared by the Black AIDS Institute (BAI), which is located in Los Angeles; Us Helping Us People Into Living Inc. (UHU) in Washington, D.C., and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) in Brooklyn, New York. I’m praying that this helps you in your search for answers.

By the way my dissertation focuses on the extent to which factors of socioeconomic, education, and numbers of sexual partners relate to the utilization of PrEP.

Shalom,
Your Black Jewish Brother
Justin B. Terry-Smith aka Yadin


Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].