Greater D.C. Cares, an organization that provides non-monetary help to nonprofit and charitable organizations in D.C., hosted a panel on the District’s HIV/AIDS problem downtown Thursday.
A crowd of about 30 people gathered to listen to representatives from a variety of HIV/AIDS groups discuss the problems with educating young people, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among the members of D.C.‘s poor communities and how to be an activist in the fight against the virus.
The speakers included Karen Schneider of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Adam Tenner of Metro TeenAIDS, Charles Sessoms of the Administration for HIV Policy and Prevention Programs, Jim Harvey from the D.C. Primary Care Association and Alex Lawson from the Whitman Walker Clinic.
Each speaker on the panel made a compelling case for why D.C. must improve its response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the city.
Schnieder presented D.C. Appleseed’s “report card” on D.C.‘s response, with grades ranging from a high of a B+ for their HIV/AIDS administration Web site to a low of a D for their lack of condom distribution programs.
Tenner covered the problem of young people with HIV/AIDS, stunning the crowd by saying that if one is to take out the Dupont area in D.C., the city’s AIDS rate is similar to sub-Saharan Africa, “and I don’t mean that by exaggeration.”
Sessoms used his experiences in Holland to explain the way he thought D.C. should deal with its needle exchange program. He said Congress controls D.C.‘s budget so that “people in Kansas and Oklahoma and Montana and all over the country decide how D.C. spends its money,” which hampers Washington’s own HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. Sessoms said that D.C. must treat its drug problem like a health issue instead of a moral one.
Harvey discussed the many problems the D.C. hospital system has with treating HIV/AIDS and examined the effects of declaring HIV/AIDS a state of emergency in the District, which he explained would move the issue to the top of the city’s council list of issues to handle, he said.
Lawson finished up the panel by discussing “bird-dogging,” the tactic of going to public political events and asking politicians tough questions, forcing them to confront difficult issues.
Miguel Velez, a D.C. native, came to the panel to “find out more about what’s going on in the local community with HIV and AIDS.” Despite the negative statistics and what appears to be a tough fight ahead, Velez said he came away with “an optimistic point of view - there’s a lot of positive energy in the room tonight.”
The panel discussion was organized by AU alum, Kilin Boardman-Schroyer, Greater D.C. Cares program coordinator. A graduate of the Class of 2003, Boardman-Schroyer, has always been involved with local community service.
“A lot of the different issues I saw all over these countries and what the downsides of globalization were bringing these countries, I found that many of them were mirrored in what’s going on here in the District,” Boardman-Schroyer said.