There were several moments during the Plainfield City Council’s agenda session and special meeting this past Monday evening (December 27, 2010) that puzzled me—including Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’s two attempts (in violation of the law) to have the videographer stop the recording of the meeting/edit the record.
I want to mention just one of those moments. At one point during the meeting, the mayor stated that her reason for wanting the camera stopped was so that she could provide those of us in the room with the statistics on current rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Plainfield. Why this public information would be deemed too delicate for the sensibilities of Plainfielders who watch the meetings on PCTV is beyond me.
Remember the “Silence=Death” slogan from the 1980s and 1990s? It was very effective—the focus was on being LOUD about HIV/AIDS. What the mayor should have done, in my view, was not only make her comments ON CAMERA, but put those stats on the city’s website, sound the clarion, and even record a PSA on the alarming rates of infection among our population—frankly, it’s not too late to do so.
The time for delicate sensibilities is over—we need to be vocal, especially since Plainfield is one of the top ten cities in the numbers of HIV/AIDS cases reported in New Jersey. I work in Newark, where the rates of HIV/AIDS are astronomical; indeed, in the United States,it is the leading cause of death of black women aged 25-34 years. At Essex County College, where I teach and also serve as a member of the Urban Issues Institute’s Steering Committee (along with Plainfield’s own Christian Estevez), the Institute hosted an HIV/AIDS Awareness Week during the first week of December (World AIDS Day is December 1).
Folks got tested, educational materials were distributed, we screened documentary filmmaker Cyrille Phipps’s Seen But Not Heard: AIDS, Sexual Politics, and the Untold War Against Black Women, and seminars and forums were held at the college throughout the week. We have done similar events at ECC in the past, partnering with other organizations located in Newark and Essex County.
In Plainfield, it would have been great to have at least held an observance of World AIDS Day, some sort of acknowledgment of the suffering, and a commitment to increasing awareness, especially among our young people, among whose population we have seen the fastest rising rates of infection. Well, although World AIDS Day has passed, we have another opportunity to get it right in Plainfield.
Monday, February 7, 2011 is Black AIDS Awareness Day—observed during Black History Month—but certainly not precluding the idea of raising awareness among all ethnicities in the nation. I would like to propose that the city and the school district hold a formal observance of this day, and educate our young people on prevention, as well as offering information for those who are living with HIV/AIDS, as well as those who are or will be caregivers.
Here are the statistics on HIV/AIDS in Plainfield, New Jersey from the state’s IMPACT (Intensive Mobilization to Promote AIDS Awareness through Community-based Technologies) Initiative (as of December 31, 2009). The IMPACT Initiative is “… a city-by-city community mobilization initiative designed to galvanize and support African American leaders to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in cities with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS.” (from the NJDHSS web site)
If the mayor has numbers/statistics more alarming than these, I think it behooves her to disseminate them as widely as possible and as quickly as possible. Silence still equals death.
Below are some links to additional information on HIV/AIDS.
Seen But Not Heard: AIDS, Sexual Politics, and the Untold War Against Black Women, by Cyrille Phipps