February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a time when we bring awareness of the effect of HIV and AIDS on the African American community. The ultimate goal of the day is to have folks get educated, get involved, get tested, and get treated.
To commemorate this day, we spoke with Ernest Hopkins, our director of legislative affairs, on why he got involved with HIV work, why days like National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day are important, and what he hopes to see in the future.
How/why did you get involved with HIV work?
As a gay man living in New York City, I saw how the HIV epidemic developed through public health and political inaction, fear, homophobia, and racism. It was the social justice and health imperative of my generation and there didn’t seem to be any way to avoid involvement.
When I moved back home to Washington, DC, the effect of the HIV epidemic in the African American community was pronounced and devastating. There were no effective drugs and little public health or governmental support. These factors marked the early days of the epidemic and made the work of angry and determined advocates, like myself, all the more necessary.
Can you please explain your role at the foundation?
I started at the foundation in 1997 and I promote legislative, policy, and funding priorities that serve the interests of San Francisco and Bay Area residents living with and vulnerable to HIV acquisition.
San Francisco AIDS Foundation plays a significant role in addressing substance user health and other social determinants that affect the HIV health and wellness for our communities. Embracing the local commitment to Get to Zero in all communities is a fundamental component of my message at the federal level.
I share our success at the federal level by promoting the innovative models of substance user health, and HIV prevention, care, and support developed here in San Francisco. An important part of my job is to help policy makers translate these local efforts into replicable models for other parts of the nation.
Why is it important to have a NBHAAD?
It is essential to have NBHAAD because the African American community, regardless of subpopulation, is the most disproportionately affected population by HIV and AIDS in the U.S. As a result, Getting to Zero will never be possible unless our nation addresses the intractable and persistent disparities in outcomes and access that mark the long and problematic relationship between public health and the African American community. NBHAAD offers opportunities for dialogue about these and other important issues.
What do you hope to see accomplished by the next NBHAAD?
My hope is that the many plans and initiatives being developed now will address the specific needs of African American communities across the nation, with special emphasis on low income individuals with employment, housing access, mental health, and substance use challenges.
If there is one message you would want to share with our communities NBHAAD, what would it be?
The success of our efforts to Get to Zero rely on our ability to effectively address the HIV epidemic and the social determinants that drive it. In African American communities, we must bring our most innovative, creative, and respectful thinking to our actions.
The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.
Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.