“I stopped going to my place of worship because I felt like I had to hide and not be comfortable in my own skin. I took my medication in secret, didn’t know how to respond when I was questioned about not getting married and sacrificed my health so I wouldn’t be seen going to the HIV clinic,” said Bryan Jones, a Muslim Man living with HIV for over 30 years. “When I finally was confident enough to disclose my status, the perception of my community was, if you are a person living with HIV, then you can’t be Muslim because you weren’t living how a Muslim should.”
I started National Faith HIV & AIDS Awareness Day because of people like Bryan. Everyone has the right to feel safe and welcomed in their faith community and not be judged due to their HIV status. My journey towards organizing this day began in the spring of 2016 when I reached out to HIV.gov requesting for this day to be officially added to their HIV Awareness Days calendar. I learned in order to do so, I must show a need for this day. I could go the route of writing a paper and referencing statistics but then I realized, there weren’t many statistics here in the US on HIV and diverse faith communities. I decided I would organize a pilot day and see where it led.
Fast forward 14 months later, after a lot of emails, calls, follow ups, being told no, feeling discouraged to finally being told yes and feeling inspired, I am blessed to work with an amazing task force comprised of individuals that represent the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i and Buddhist faiths. This diverse team has brought this day to life and we excitedly anticipate its launch on August 27th, 2017.
Events are being organized across the country by Ambassadors in cities that have high HIV prevalence rates with the main event taking place in Washington, DC. The targeted cities are: New York City, NY; Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Houston, TX; Atlanta, GA; Miami, FL; Baton Rouge, LA; Memphis, TN; Charlotte, NC; Columbia, SC; Jackson, MS; Philadelphia, PA; Detroit, MI; Cleveland, OH and Chicago, IL. View our recently released promo video featuring our Ambassadors below:
The event in DC will begin with a Prayer Walk starting at The White House and ending at Freedom Plaza where the rally will take place. We chose the White House as our starting point for NFHAAD to show unity in face of this Administration's troubling anti-HIV policies. As people of faith, one of our core tenants is to care for the sick and provide ways to foster good health and strengthen their well being. This obligation is even more important now because 40% of people living with HIV rely on Medicaid for their treatment and care, and the proposed budget cuts to this program will significantly impact them by stripping it away. This will reverse the progress that has been made towards getting to zero. It is incumbent upon us during this tremulous time, as people of faith, to provide support for our community members in need.
At the rally, attendees will hear from religious leaders of diverse backgrounds, activists and survivors with the goal of empowering them to feel inspired to go back home to their faith communities and advocate for safe spaces. There will also be free HIV testing, networking, entertainment and resources.
“Faith communities have a duty and responsibility to welcome and support ALL persons living with HIV,” said 22 year old Deondre Moore who was diagnosed with HIV at age 19. “Because of the stigma that I used to hear growing up from faith leaders in my church, it made me nervous about being open and honest about my status. I built a relationship with God on my own, during my adversity of being diagnosed which allowed me to build up the courage, the faith, and the pride to speak up about who I had become and what I had been faced with. I did this to break barriers and start conversations around HIV in my church so that others who may be going through the same thing can feel welcomed and not shamed.”
It is important that Faith Leaders are heavily involved and participate in this day as they are the role models of faith communities. Read our letter to faith leaders and learn how you can become a part of a movement that seeks to inspire change.
Interested in being a sponsor? Please visit here for more information.
“I long to be a part of my faith community. But I can’t do so until I feel safe and understood by its leaders and followers. Prayerfully, National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will be a catalyst for the change that I seek. I encourage you to join us, ” Member of the NFHAAD Task Force.
The time to act is now. Join us on Sunday, August 27th, 2017 in a city near you.
United We Are Stronger. Together We Are Powerful. One Day. Each Year. Until We Find A Cure.