More on AIDS at 30

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Betty Smith was a respiratory therapist who was tired of seeing AIDS patients treated as pariahs when she founded the South Side Help Center in 1987.

She started by reaching out to African American ministers. When many were “hesitant,” she started going to their wives.

Today the South Side Health Center offers HIV testing, education and outreach programs along with myriad community services like youth mentoring and substance abuse counseling.  The group is also dedicated to fostering other, younger community groups.

The group’s story is part of a panaroma of history and reflection available in Windy City Times’ AIDS At 30 series, including a number of articles looking at HIV/AIDS and the black community.

James Scott of the Youth Pride Center writes that HIV is “wreaking seemingly uncontrollable havoc on the African American community,” particularly among young black men who have sex with men (who may not identify as gay or bisexual).

Cleo Manago, founder of the Black Men’s Xchange, recalls being heckled at a mid-1980s conference when he called for a multidimensional approach to attract diverse African Americans to AIDS services.

“The black community still has HIV because America has never had an efficient and black culturally responsive HIV prevention model, policy, campaign, leadership or agenda — in 30 years,” he writes.

WCT interviews West Side native (longtime LA resident) Phill Wilson, who’s emerged as one of the nation’s most outspoken AIDS activists since founding the Black AIDS Institute in 1999; he talks about his own history and activism, the challenge of reaching out to the black community about AIDS, and his assessment of the strengths of weaknesses of President Obama on the issue (he serves on Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS).  “I believe that the president has had some hits and misses,” he says.

The series also includes the stories of many individuals dealing with the epidemic – nurse Margaret Bausch, who started caring for HIV/AIDS patients when “a lot of people didn’t want to work with HIV”; Roger Beyers, a former Ringling Brothers clown who later worked for 40 years at Jewel-Osco, who speaks to groups around town about his HIV-positive status; Michael McColly, who teaches writing at Northwestern and has authored “The After-Death Room: Journey Into Spiritual Activism,” reflecting on how his “journey into acceptance” began when he learned he was HIV-positive; Amy Maggio, who marched with ACT-UP, handed out condoms in bathhouses, and raised millions of dollars in corporate boardrooms for LGBT groups.

There are reports on sessions at the recent American Historical Association meet in Chicago on the history of the epidemic, including a presentation on the role of the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic pioneering “making sexual health part of gay identity” and a dissection of the “patient zero” myth and how it fed drives for anti-gay legislation and quarantines.

Lots more, too, so check it out.

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