When it comes to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the African American community, Harold du Four-Anderson has been talking the talk and walking the Walk for three decades.
Harold was living in France when the news of an unknown and deadly new disease made its way over from America. “I had been reading about the epidemic and its impact across the nation,” he said. “We were getting only bits of information in Paris. I felt that it was important for me to come back [to the United States] to get involved in public health work.” After moving back to Boston in 1984, he participated in the first AIDS Walk Boston soon after. Harold’s participation in the Walk as a volunteer inspired him to become an AIDS Action Committee staff member and devote himself to the cause on a full time basis.
“I had a personal concern that this was something that was happening to my community – that motivated me to become more involved,” he said. But Harold didn’t just become involved in AIDS advocacy; he became a leader.
While working at the AIDS Action Committee as a Multicultural Community Liaison in the late 80s and early 90s, Harold witnessed firsthand how the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the world around him. Boston’s African American population was especially hard hit, yet the “public face” of AIDS was largely portrayed as gay, white men. To bring more attention to the role of LGBT communities of color in the fight against AIDS, Harold proposed an outreach initiative which in 1990 become the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast, a yearly celebration of LGBT people of color that honors the legacy and spirit of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.
“When I started doing this work, there was a huge level of resistance in communities of color against talking about AIDS,” he said. “The whole notion of being gay or bisexual and of color was not accepted. Now, even in religious communities, it’s understood that this disease is disproportionately affecting people of color. Even if the response [to AIDS in communities of color] is still limited, it’s much greater today than it was back then.”
It’s critical to keep the momentum going in educating people about HIV prevention and reducing stigma, Harold said. “We need to remain visible and convey the message that this epidemic continues to wreak havoc,” he explained. “The CDC estimates that 57% of people of color who are HIV positive are gay or bisexual men, and 39% are young men age 13 to 24. These are the people who have less access to health care for a number of reasons.”
One thing is clear to Harold: while Massachusetts has been incredibly successful in reducing new HIV infections in recent years, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.
“We’ve made enormous progress, but we need to press on with the message that AIDS impacts us all, including men of color. We need to continue to have Walks, to continue to provide education and reach out to young people who are just coming into their own sexual expression,” he said. “The message that AIDS Action has put out since the beginning – prevention, intervention, and treatment – is still important and the Walk is a great vehicle for that message.”
Harold, who is a Walk Team Captain for the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast team again this year, has one simple fact that he hopes everyone hears: “Testing and treatment saves lives.”
Donate to Team Bayard Rustin here.
Harold will receive AIDS Action Committee’s Hero in Action Award on Sunday, June 5 at the 31st Walk. Heroes in Action honors those who have made significant and lasting contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts. Previous honorees include public health officials, medical professionals, grassroots activists, and fundraisers with an inspirational ability to work across communities to improve and protect the health of those infected with, affected by, or at risk of HIV/AIDS.
Registration is now open for the 31st annual AIDS Walk Boston & 5K Run, which will take place Sunday, June 5, 2016. The event continues to be New England’s largest HIV/AIDS funding and awareness raiser, attracting thousands of participants who all walk for different reasons, but walk together for one common cause: to support AIDS Action and its work to prevent new infections, maximize the health outcomes of those infected, and end the epidemic here in Massachusetts. Please register today to walk, run, or donate.
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