Black church becomes active in AIDS fight

“Ain’t no shots, you’re dead,” said Rev. Charles Morris, pastor of Anderson Chapel AME Church, as he compared being infected with an STD in the 70’s to contracting AIDS today.

Morris was one of the five panelists at FAMU’s Essential Theatre Forum held Feb 7.

The forum was entitled “HIV/AIDS: The Role of the Black Church- A Balm in Gilead?!”.

Valencia Matthews, director of the theatre and coordinator of the forum, opened the program by saying: “Today we come together as a community to discuss and hopefully make an impact on the issue that is devastating our community.”

More than 35,000 blacks in Florida are currently living with HIV, according to the Florida Department of Health.

HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for both males and black females ages 25-44.

“You must be empowered enough to ask (your mate) where is your HIV test,” said Jennett Baker, a nurse consultant at the Bureau of HIV/AIDS.

She said that if you are sexually active you must know the status of your partner.

The audience was enlightened with a heartfelt story from a victim of the disease.

” I was molested. It lasted six years,” said Edward Sims, 37, a senior social worker major from Marianna. ” This virus is a daily fight.”

Edna Brown, co-pastor of the University Ministries International and adjunct professor at FAMU said the church must minister to those who have AIDS.

“The church has been tardy and inadequate in working with AIDS victims,” said Brown.

She also added that the church should be more knowledgeable about AIDS and should teach children to abstain at an early age.

According to the Department of Health, blacks make up only 13 percent of Florida’s population, but comprise 46 percent of the AIDS cases reported since December 1999 and 60 percent of all the HIV cases.

“We do have a problem…as a people we are going to have to come together and solve this problem,” said Baker.

Calvin McFadden, pastor of Ray of Hope United Methodist Church, echoed the sentiments of Brown.

McFadden said that the church should be a loving and supportive environment for AIDS victims and their families.

“Black churches need to step up to the plate and educate our community,” he said.

Rev. Morris urged college students to be active in the educational awareness of HIV/AIDS.

“College students are the future leaders of this country…if you don’t do something now, we will be totally eradicated from earth.”

Students attending the forum voiced their opinion on the issue.

“I didn’t know that statistics on blacks were that high. There’s a lot of mis-education in the community,” said William Wiggins, 28, a junior philosophy/religion major from Quincy.

” We don’t know a lot and we need to educate our people.”

Crystal Watkins, 18, a business administration major from Detroit said, “The church is really trying to help out with AIDS, I never knew they accepted that.

It was good to know about AIDS and the programs that they have here at FAMU.”

The forum was one of many educational presentations held at FAMU on the HIV/AIDS subject.

The purpose was to inform the mis-educated about the disease and to discuss the role of the church on the subject.

“The only cure that we have for HIV is education,” said Baker.