The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Region 2 Conference surpassed its mission by giving exceptional information to its publishers on the vitality of HIV/AIDS coverage in the region’s newspapers.
The conference was held at the Sheraton Orlando North hotel in Maitland, FL from November 17-19, with the first two days strictly set for forums and guest speakers. Rev. R. B. Holmes, the Region 2 President and owner of the Florida-based Capital Outlook newspaper, partnered the conference with his Save the Family Now Foundation, and created a highly intellectual series of informational sessions about the devastating disease.
On Thursday, each speaker added a different perspective to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During the luncheon, Dr. Stephanie Sweet, a physician from the Renaissance Women’s Center in Nashville, TN, showcased how breakdowns in society’s images have led to a level of disconnection amongst people.
The advent of social networking and reality TV have changed the way young people view themselves and their counterparts, all of which translate into their physical relationships. According to Sweet, the drama attached to reality television shows can have a hugely negative effect on young people’s views of relationships. In addition, she urged people to accept that their natural sexual urges are normal and should be embraced, but tempered and engaged safely with another person.
Saadia Coleman, an HIV/AIDS advocate and educator for the City of Boston Public Schools, made the spread of the disease very understandable with her remake of the “Telephone” game. With the help of audience members, she showed how every sexually active person is connected by their partner’s sexual past. This also orchestrated how difficult it can be to trace from whom a patient got the disease from.
The apex of Thursday’s presentations was given by Dr. Donald J. Alcendor, Assistant Professor of Microbiology & Immunology for Meharry Medical College. Alcendor, who has studied HIV and AIDS for the last 30 years, unloaded a myriad of information about this deadly disease.
Alcendor gave the entire timeline of the virus from 1981 to 2011, but gave some amazingly positive medical updates.
He spoke about the “Berlin Patient,” a man who suffered from HIV and leukemia. Timothy Ray Brown was diagnosed in 1995 with HIV, but received a bone marrow transplant in Germany that contained a rare allele that has seemingly cured him of all HIV-like symptoms. Five to fourteen percent of Europeans have the CCR-5 delta-32 mutation that is immune to HIV, but it is very rare in African- Americans.
Alcendor thinks that there can be a cure for the disease, but it will not come overnight. His research is focused on protecting vaginal skin cells that absorb the virus. “I am trying to identify specific proteins that are susceptible to HIV,” said Alcendor. He believes that protecting women from it will help eradicate the spread of the disease.
On Friday, Dr. Wilbert Jordan, the director of the Oasis Clinic in Los Angeles, advocated for the press to reach out to its African- American experts when covering the disease. “There are several Black doctors who are on par or exceed experts of other races when it comes to HIV,” said Jordan. He believes that increase of focus in the African- American press will expand the knowledge about the disease amongst its community, which has contracted the virus at a disproportionate rate.
Jordan, who was one of the first doctors to diagnose an HIV patient in Los Angeles in 1981, geared his presentation to inform the audience about the prevalence of MSM patients and the effect of their sexual behavior on the spread of the disease. Jordan specifically uses the term MSM to discuss men who have engaged in homosexual relationships. “The word ‘gay’ means feminine in our community, not homosexual,” said Jordan. Due to the stigma attached to homosexuality, many men don’t admit to sleeping with other men, according to Jordan.
The social aspect of the African-American community is one of the largest reasons for the “down low” lifestyle, which means men who sleep with men but engage in heterosexual relationships. “Many men continue to sleep with women and sometimes have babies, just to make their mother proud,” said Jordan. However, these men are homosexual, but can’t face their sexuality to their family and friends.
The conference left many on-goers stunned by the information, but not completely overwhelmed. “It was in-depth and real,” said