The NAACP Philadelphia Branch hosted a training Thursday for faith leaders in the Philadelphia region to engage them in the fight against the HIV epidemic.
More than 40 faith leaders were expected to attend the training session held Thursday at the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia.
The training is part of the NAACP’s The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative, a national initiative that aims to educate Black faith leaders about HIV and encourage them to take action.
“There is a large segment of the Black community that puts faith or trust in a view from clergy. If pastors are training these congregations how to handle HIV if it manifests in their church, it can go a long way,” said Philadelphia NAACP Branch President Minister Rodney Muhammad.
The training effort is being highlighted at a time when African Americans account for 44 percent of all people living with HIV and nearly half of all new infections.
“Realizing that from the civil rights era when the Black church and the NAACP partner together, great movement, traction and motivation can happen around civil rights and especially now today around HIV, particularly when you talk about social justice,” said NAACP National HIV Programs Director Rev. Keron Sadler.
“A lot of times we in the community don’t understand that health and HIV are tied to social justice issues. It’s a greater picture than just how one has contracted it or the mode of transmission.”
Sadler says there is a link between social and racial disparities and the disproportionate impact of HIV on the African American community. These disparities range from higher rates of incarceration to lack of access to quality care and socioeconomic factors.
Recognizing that HIV is often considered a taboo topic, Sadler encourages faith leaders to view it as a social justice issue.
“At the end of the day we help them understand that regardless of what your theology is, regardless of what your doctrine is – it’s about how can I save a life,” she stated.
“God has really called us as faith leaders to save lives and we do that by understanding what are the needs in our communities and how we can make a difference. We can do that around HIV by raising awareness, providing screening so that people can know their status so that people can get into care.”
Sadler said faith leaders who participate in the training sessions often walk away with a different perspective after learning facts about HIV. She noted that if Black America was its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for new HIV diagnosis.
Rev. Warren Mays, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Media, was looking forward to taking valuable information back to his congregation so they can become engaged in the issue of HIV awareness.
“We want to look at what we can do begin to address the issue – that’s a big step for us,” Mays said.
“If we want to talk about how ‘all lives matter,’ then we need to demonstrate efforts to convey that.”
The NAACP launched The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative in 2012 with 12 cities. In 2013, the NAACP and Gilead Sciences made the Clinton Global initiative Commitment to Action to expand the initiative from 12 to the 30 cities with the greatest HIV burden. During the next five years, the initiative aims to engage nearly 3,000 faith leaders to reach approximately 1.125 million people in the Black community with messages about HIV.
The initiative works to overcome stigma and address HIV as an issue of social justice by conducting faith leader trainings, securing formal resolutions from seven to 9 historically Black denominations to include HIV as a social justice issue in church activities and integrate HIV-related course work into the required curricula at predominately African American theological seminaries.
The NAACP is gearing up to recognizing the Day of Unity on July 12, a day where church leaders around the country are encourage to preach from the pulpit about HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue, provide information about HIV and offer testing.
For information about the NAACP’s initiative theblackchurchandhiv.org.