Earlier this month, a challenge was issued at a national level in an effort to address the growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS cases that are ravishing African American communities nationwide. This “call-to-order” campaign was billed as National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. One local organization heard that long-awaited call and answered it.
Abounding Prosperity Incorporated (AP), located at 2311 Martin L. King Blvd. Dallas, Tx. proceeded to do on that one eventful day what they have done everyday by bringing politicians, leaders, healthcare professionals and the community together to shed light on what many have kept in the dark, by revealing new solutions to very old problems.
The background noise created by the commuting cars, loud locals and wistful winds remained just that, “background noise”, as AP’s fearless leader could not be silenced.
Kirk D. Myers, founder and CEO of Abounding Prosperity, quickly took the stage welcoming everyone and acknowledging his appreciation for their attending his community-based battleground. The primary purpose of this event, to introduce the latest arsenal against HIV/AIDS and AP’s newly acquired allies in the fight for a better future.
In their constant progression in the plight for HIV/AIDS prevention, AP has partnered with Gilead Sciences, Inc. to provide a training, educational and social marketing series, geared to clients, using new biomedical research that is reducing rates of HIV infection.
PrEP/Utilizing Prevention! or PrEP/UP! is the name of the program that incorporates the prevention strategies known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This will involve the utilization of antiretroviral therapy that may help reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV-1 infection. Confused? Well, back to the Myers.
“AP has organized this press conference today to announce how our agency will be offering community forums, focus groups and one-on-one individual level interventions to speak with authority that this drug (Truvada) is needed, beneficial and available,” proclaimed Myers. “I know the availability of PrEP is a sign that HIV prevention is in sync with the real world. Therefore, I was instrumental in urging the prompt review and approval of PrEP because I knew it was the right thing to do while giving MSM’s, Transgender and Black women options to make a choice on a daily basis to protect their lives as we all go about our business as usual, be it at the level of CEO or street walker.” Myers closed by thanking Gilead for selecting AP for this well-welcomed responsibility. Love was apparently in the air as Darla Stricklin of Rite Care Pharmacy took the mic.
“We are here today as Rite Care in a partnership with Abounding Prosperity and very grateful to bring the PrEP program and to this community, exclaimed Stricklin. “We also want to bring the drug Truvada to the community while bringing awareness of HIV. Stricklin stressed that it is not simply about getting drugs, but more about getting care.
When a client brings in a prescription for Truvada, they’ll receive confidential counseling from our pharmacist about the drug, about a healthy lifestyle, education on nutrition and exercise,” Stricklin informed. “We also provide free multivitamins every month when you get your prescription filled.” Uh oh, she said the “P-word”. Don’t worry, it’s easy. “We also offer free delivery either via mail or our drivers will deliver it right to your door,” explained Stricklin. “We are in community, right down the street at 3116 MLK.”
Myers’ clout brought out political powerhouses in show of their support for the big day.
Dallas Council Member Carolyn Davis, District 7, had a lot to say and even more to give.
“It is alarming and disturbing to me that so many still say this is a ‘gay’ disease,” emphasized Davis. “No it’s not. This is an urban setting; this is a Downtown setting affecting us all. If we are all having sex, it is all of our disease in this city!”
Davis started with great passion and ended in exclamatory fashion by proclaiming February 7th 2013 as the National Black HIVAIDS Awareness Day in Dallas County and recognizing the announcement of the PrEP/UP! program for HIV/AIDS prevention.
Dallas County Health and Human Services Director, Zachary Thompson was “front row” for the event. He noted his pleasure with those attending and displeasure with those not.
“To Kirk Myers, to the staff, Councilwoman Davis, let me say thank you for being here in South Dallas and standing on the forefront of what we consider to be an epidemic in Dallas County,” Thompson addressed the crowd. “Now, I assume if I was doing a press conference talking about the West Nile Virus, we would have every media outlet here. We are talking about an issue that has been as devastating as and more than the West Nile Virus, that issue being HIV/AIDS and its effect in the African American community.”
On stage, Thompson pointed out several numbers, numbers we are all too familiar with. Off stage, Thompson graciously granted The Dallas Weekly a one-on-one interview.
“At this point, it’s really not about awareness because I think the awareness is out there but it just isn’t resonating in the Black communities because we don’t think it’s real,” revealed Thompson. “I think one factor is social media. As people connect strictly through this forum, many don’t see the outwardly activity that is truly going on. They don’t think it is really happening.” Thompson lists churches, schools and homes as the various areas where work needs to be done. These compile the whole community. As far as the school system specifically, Thompson suggested a possible “reality check.”
“School districts and school boards are resistant to HIV/AIDS education because many are still in this “Bible belt” mentality and we have to let them know we’re in the 21st Century,” conveyed Thompson. “Kids are already engaging in sexual acts at an early age. We have to talk about prevention, ramp up the school curriculum and see how to infuse HIV/AIDS in schools across the board. Not just a specific class, but general education.”
Lastly, he offered his take on why African Americans numbers are highest in health risks.
“African Americans have always had a distrust about the medical community,” suggested Thompson. “So we have to do a better job of taking care of ourselves, because it’s really about a better quality of life and we’re going to have to focus on personal responsibility.”
Knowing his audience, Myers reserved the latter half of the conference for Q & A’s.
One of the most sought after speakers was Sayeed Vulfiqar. Vulfiqar is the owner of Rite Care Pharmacy, the pharmacy filling the very prescription for drug of the hour, Truvada. Sayeed stated that Truvada has been out on the market for several years but only for the treatment of HIV. He went on to state that after the FDA looked at clinical trials and data from Gilead, it was concluded that Truvada has some affect on the prevention of HIV.
“If you’re exposed to the virus, if you think and anticipating that you are going to be exposed to the virus and you start taking it once everyday and then it’s going to prevent you from HIV,” explained Vulfiqar. “With any medication it’s not 100% guarantee with anything, so you have to take all those precaution measures that you normally do anyway.” More notable speakers spoke and many unanswered questions were revisited. Throughout the day free food, fun and funk were provided. Don’t forget the free testing. After AP gave it their all, Myers did Real Talk 101 exclusively with The Dallas Weekly.
Finally away from the questions that catered to the agenda of others, Myers chose to expound on his own personal views and motivation for the events leading to and taking place on the carefully orchestrated day. “I thought it made sense to choose today because it was National Black HIV, not just National HIV, so for us to talk about something that can potentially save Black lives, it would serve greater significance,” Myers revealed.
Some questioned if Myers was getting away from tradition with the theme of the day. Myers had an answer. “Of course we still want people to test and know their status, but once they know and if there are any risks of contracting HIV, they need to know that there are options,” explained Myers. “Frankly, when I talk to people that look like you and myself, they’re not aware that there’s a pill they can take daily that will prevent HIV. Whites have been knowing even before it was even approved. I’m for overall awareness.” Myers is aware that many may question his strategy, his approach and even his event.
“I always talk in very clear and concise terms because of where I’m located, but I can talk blah blah, shoot I testified in front of the FDA,” Myers smirked. “But at the end of the day, the people comin’ in here to get tested are now outside my window droppin’ it like it’s hot! Those three girls probably wouldn’t have gotten tested had we not done this.”
(Note- There truly were three girls outside of Myers window droppin’ it like it was hot!)
For those wanting answers as to why Myers supports Truvada usage, Myers has them.
“You have a Black man that’s infected with HIV and a Black woman that’s negative and they want to have a baby. This would be potential conversation pertaining to this drug.” Let it be written, Myers’ focus is not solely restricted to H.I.V., but to S.A.F.E.T.Y.
“A young man who was visibly handsome passed by my window and I told my staff to ask him in. His sexual orientation didn’t matter; just that he was young and should get tested. It wasn’t about HIV, it was about syphilis,” Myers recalled. “He wasn’t aware that syphilis is at an all-time high in Dallas. I informed him that here at this location in the past 14 years since Dallas has been reporting cases, that we have identified the most.
My message to him was not so much about HIV but about protecting himself, period.
If you’re gonna do things, you need to know things. You can get syphilis from oral sex!” Myers said he tries to make a connection first, and then make people aware that it’s real.
Before Myers could end his real talk session, he proposed one last burning question.
“It was very telling to me what Press was here. Black Press was here. Black folks talking about Black folks,” Myers recalled. “South Dallas…they probably thought it wasn’t newsworthy. You know, even the Gay White Press didn’t come over and we talked to The Voice. That wasn’t lost on me but again that makes me wonder, what’s going on?”
If you want to know what’s going on, visit www.aboundingprosperity.org