Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Spreading the Word: AIDS Preachers Called upon to Warn Blacks

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Spreading the Word: AIDS Preachers Called upon to Warn Blacks

Article excerpt

As more African-Americans in the Jacksonville area are

contracting AIDS and the virus that causes it, pastors and other

community leaders are being called on to step up the city's

fight against the deadly disease.

The call comes as the People With AIDS Coalition of

Jacksonville plans to close this month because of funding

difficulties. More than half the agency's clients are

African-Americans.

The agency, in operation for a decade, is closing at a critical

time, especially for African-Americans, said officials from AIDS

agencies, the health department and other organizations.

"The myth that this is just a gay disease needs to be removed

from the mind set of African-Americans," said Jackie Nash,

Jacksonville-area HIV/AIDS prevention coordinator for the

Florida Department of Health.

"One thing the gay community taught us is that the only way to

make a difference in this disease is to attack it from within in

the African-American community," said Nash, who is black.

"People need to show some leadership. It can come from community

based organizations, churches and individual citizens saying we

want to do something about this."

Health Department statistics show the number of

African-Americans in Jacksonville with acquired immune deficiency

syndrome has increased from 1,749 to 1,927 through the past

year.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of Jacksonville's

population, but about 57 percent of its AIDS cases, while whites

account for 41 percent of the cases, the statistics show,

Also, African-Americans have 76 percent of the human

immunodeficiency virus cases reported in Jacksonville through

the past year, compared with 22 percent for Caucasians,

statistics show.

NEED NOT FADING

The People With AIDS Coalition, based at the Community House

social service center on Riverside Avenue, was one of the first

agencies to fight for people with AIDS in Jacksonville. The

coalition helped found the Main Street Clinic, Northeast

Florida's first HIV/AIDS clinic; it founded the Walk for Hope,

the area's only HIV/AIDS walk, and it helps people with

counseling and other services.

Federal funds and private donations that had been supporting

the coalition "just seem to be going different places now," said

Dick Niemann, the coalition's director.

"It seems the smaller agencies like ours are disappearing, here

and across the country," Niemann said. "People are under the

impression that new medications are the salvation, that people

literally don't need help anymore."

Even though Lutheran Social Services and other agencies will

continue to provide services, people with AIDS or HIV are losing

a friendly place that can offer referrals, alternative medical

therapies, housing or dental assistance and other help.

"We get calls every day, `Can you help me with this, help me

with that,' " Niemann said. "We've been a place that will

listen."

Gene Copello, director of the Northeast Florida AIDS Network,

agreed that "they've been a major helping hand to a lot of

people; anytime you lose an agency like them, especially at a

time like this, with so many people having increasingly complex

needs, it's a big impact."

The network provides similar services but is larger, with a

$1.6 million budget last year compared with the coalition's

$193,000.

FEW SPEAK UP

About 65 percent of the coalition's clients have been

African-American, Niemann said. …

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