Let’s Start a Conversation
The White House, the Capitol, the museums. The politicians, the lobbyists, the journalists. That's the Washington I had heard about before coming to D.C. in 2003 as a 22-year-old summer reporting intern for The Washington Post.
But in my first few months living in the city -- riding the bus across town, walking around the neighborhoods -- I grew to know a whole other Washington. I grew to know a predominantly black city that does not have a vote in Congress. A city with a sizable gay population and a growing Latino community. A city with a high incarceration rate, with many residents thrown in and out of prison because of drugs. And I discovered a disease that decade after decade -- during the Reagan administration, through the Clinton and Bush years and now as the first African American president resides in Washington -- has kept on spreading, just a few miles from the White House.
At least 3 percent of the capital city's population is HIV-positive -- far surpassing the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic, as determined by the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while Washington has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country, other cities are seeing epidemic-like figures. In New York City, 1 in 8 injection-drug users and 1 in 10 men who have sex with men are HIV-positive. Nationally, the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34 is AIDS, according to the CDC.
When people think of AIDS in America, they think, "Oh, it's not here. It's in Africa, in southeast Asia. it's over there." They think, "Oh, it has nothing to do with me, it's 'the other people' who get HIV anyway.'" But AIDS is right here, among us, in individual stories and struggles and hopes that interconnect.
To bear witness to the truth, as the writer James Baldwin calls it, is one of my missions as a journalist. To spark conversation, in this social media-driven era of blogging, Facebook and YouTube, is another. Nearly 30 years after we first heard of this virus, it's time to re-start it.
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