Searching for Answers

A recent Town Hall meeting on HIV/AIDS offers hope

by Will O'Bryan
Published on January 24, 2008, 12:00am | Comments

About 70 people gathered for nearly three hours the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 15, at an HIV/AIDS Town Hall Meeting seeking to rekindle some of the Civil Rights Movement's energy of Martin Luther King Jr. Entitled ''HIV in the District: This Is Not the Dream,'' the meeting was held at Unity Fellowship Church/Luther Place Memorial Church.

Panelists -- which included White House Office on AIDS Policy Director Christopher Bates, Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration Senior Deputy Director Dr. Shannon Hader, among others -- and attendees raised a number of issues, but poor service infrastructure seemed to be the most recurrent theme, whether that meant lack of housing, lack of employment opportunities, non-compassionate bureaucrats or corruption.

''There are really, really bad systems [in the District regarding HIV/AIDS],'' observed panelist Ernest Hopkins of the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition. ''This shouldn't be happening in a city like Washington. We could be the model.... But if your systems are broken, it really doesn't matter how much money you have.''

The meeting ended on a hopeful note as Rev. Christine Wiley, co-pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, led the crowd in a prayer asking for the community to fight HIV/AIDS with the same energy harnessed to fight for civil rights in years past.

The gathering was sponsored by Transgender Health Empowerment, Us Helping Us and a number of other African-American, GLBT and health organizations.