Three years after The Black Church and HIV Initiative pilot program began, the demand for the initiative's programming outweighs the organizational capacity available to implement it. The NAACP and Gilead pledge to scale up The Black Church and HIV initiative over a five-year period to reach 30 cities that make up nearly two-thirds of the nation's HIV epidemic. With the goal of changing the way HIV is viewed and approached in the Black community, the initiative will establish a national network of Black faith leaders, religious institutions and community members committed to making systemic cultural and behavioral change in the communities hit hardest by HIV.
Three core elements comprise the initiative: (1) training pastors, (2) securing formal endorsements from denominational leadership and (3) facilitating the integration of HIV-focused coursework into required seminary curricula. These activities are designed to help shape views about HIV for current and future faith leaders, both at the local level and at a national leadership level. In each of these settings, the initiative will provide Church leaders the skills, information and support they need to transform HIV/AIDS from a polarizing and stigmatizing issue into a social justice priority for the Black community.
As more faith leaders preach to their congregations about the epidemic and its impact on the community, it will signal to parishioners the importance of becoming part of an effective response to the disease. By enabling this change in perception, more African Americans will feel supported to get tested, know their HIV status, access care and treatment if they are diagnosed with the virus and support fellow community members to do so as well.
This effort is intentionally designed to be different than a typical public education campaign, by structuring it as an organic grassroots movement that can be scaled up to make a sustained impact based on work in communities by local Church leaders, the support and endorsement of leadership from the denominations of the Black Church, and training of future faith leaders (today's seminarians).
The NAACP and Gilead will partner for the next five years (2014 through 2018) to carry out a nationwide series of in-person and online trainings about HIV as a social justice issue with faith leaders; further enlist the support and engagement of the executive leadership of at least seven of the nine denominations in the Black Church; and facilitate the integration of HIV as a social justice issue into the core curricula of predominantly African American theological seminaries.
Local Faith Leader Trainings:
Through the end of 2018, the NAACP will conduct 45 trainings across the 30 cities with the heaviest burden of HIV infection among African Americans, training at least 25 local faith leaders at each event. All 30 cities were selected based on new HIV diagnoses data from CDC. The pilot phase includes local trainings in 12 cities: Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Jackson, MS; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC. The scale-up phase will include additional trainings in these original cities, as well as new trainings in Baton Rouge, LA; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Las Vegas, NV; Memphis, TN; Nashville, TN; Newark, NJ; Oakland, CA; Orlando, FL; Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; and Tampa, FL.
Training hosts will be selected based on each church's location, the degree of local civic engagement and the level of interest of church leadership. Following each training, NAACP staff will consistently reach out to all participating faith leaders about the actions they are taking to educate their congregants about HIV and provide them with access to local and online HIV resources. The NAACP will also identify and train faith leaders who demonstrate exceptional interest and ability to carry out the initiative's goals to become Black Church and HIV Ambassadors. These Ambassadors will mentor fellow faith leaders on HIV in the Black Church to extend the reach of the initiative. In addition, a field force of NAACP local leadership and volunteers will be developed and mobilized to assist NAACP national staff on the ground in identifying strong training hosts and otherwise furthering the initiative. Finally, the NAACP will carry out web-based trainings to reach local faith leaders in rural areas who might otherwise have difficulty reaching in-person trainings.
Denominational Leadership Engagement:
By the end of 2018, the NAACP will have helped secure formal resolutions from seven of nine historically Black denominations to engage pastors in advocacy about the HIV crisis among African Americans. The process for denominations to adopt formal resolutions is three-pronged, beginning with the commitment from the denominational leadership to participate in the initiative, which was received in the pilot phase. Next, the NAACP will offer in-person seminars and online trainings for the leadership of these denominations to engage the Bishops in the importance of integrating HIV into Black Church messaging. The goal of this engagement is for at least one Bishop from each denomination to make a directive at their regional/national Annual Conference, where the initiative is endorsed and participating pastors are encouraged to integrate HIV as a social justice issue into Church priorities. Once a Bishop has made a directive at an Annual Conference, the directive may be sent to a resolution committee for consideration. The NAACP will work closely with the engaged Bishops to ensure the directives are submitted to the resolution committees by the end of 2015. Resolutions must go to the resolution committee prior to being placed on the ballot at the denominations' General Conferences, which typically occur every four years, with the next General Conferences slated for 2016. The ultimate goal is for a formal resolution on HIV as a social justice issue to be adopted at the General Conferences for each of the seven denominations.
Seminary Curricula Integration:
Through 2018, the NAACP will engage with the 10 predominantly African American theological seminaries to integrate HIV as a social justice issue into required curricula, using The Black Church and HIV training manual as the basis for development of seminary curricula. The goal is to secure integration of The Black Church and HIV initiative training materials in the curricula of at least five of the seminaries by the end of 2016 in order to reach at least 1,500 seminary-trained faith leaders by 2018. To achieve this goal, NAACP staff will host guest lectures at the 10 seminaries, and work closely with seminary leadership to develop a required course that teaches future faith leaders about the severe and disparate impact of HIV on the Black community, and how to engage a congregation in the fight against HIV from a social justice perspective.
By the end of 2014, the NAACP will have trained three new full-time staff members dedicated to The Black Church and HIV initiative, with the goal of providing training for two additional team members by the end of 2015. To support the increased scale of the initiative, management training will be provided for the NAACP health program leadership. The team will also be responsible for leveraging the power of the 500,000 member organization to mobilize in support of the initiative.
Communications and Outreach:
The initiative is currently supported with the communications and media support of a public relations firm in addition to the NAACP's own communications team. An annual communications plan will be developed to support key milestones and successes. The NAACP staff will utilize and train faith leaders to employ social media, including MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and mobile texting to engage youth and extend the reach of the initiative. Additionally, by the end of 2014, NAACP will expand TheBlackChurchAndHIV.org offerings to provide online guides, sample presentations and videos to enable greater capacity for faith leaders nationwide to reduce stigma and engage their congregations in the fight against HIV.
HIV has been transformed from a death sentence into a chronic illness over the past 15 years. The epidemic in the developing world continues to receive the bulk of media attention given the devastating effects that high HIV prevalence has on many communities in resource-limited countries. In the United States, the media's focus on the domestic epidemic has waned even as new HIV infections continue unabated: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50,000 cases occur each year, and an estimated 18 percent of people with HIV - or approximately 200,000 individuals - are unaware that they have the disease. In fact, in some urban communities in the United States, HIV prevalence is on par with rates of the disease observed in some countries in Africa.
The Black community in the U.S. is on the front lines of this battle. More than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., African Americans bear the greatest burden of HIV. According to CDC data, if Black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for new HIV infections; of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S., almost half (510,000) are Black; and in 2010, the rate of new HIV infections among African Americans was almost eight times higher than among whites. Further, CDC data shows that Black Americans with HIV are least likely to be diagnosed, linked to health care, retained in care, prescribed life-saving antiretroviral therapy or to achieve viral suppression.
For more than 200 years, the Black Church has advocated for social justice, broadly defined as the equitable distribution of resources, opportunities and responsibilities throughout society. This advocacy has been instrumental in energizing multiple social movements, including those to end slavery, expand educational opportunities, fight for employment rights and increase voter registration. In light of the opportunities Black faith leaders have as trusted conveners and educators of the community, these leaders can be a powerful force for change with respect to the HIV epidemic. Their concerted efforts to share the knowledge and tools that exist today to support HIV prevention, treatment and care can enable the estimated 20 million African Americans who attend church weekly to end HIV stigma and begin to view the disease as a critical social justice issue facing their communities.
Given the prominent role of the faith leaders in the Black community and the potential for changing the course of the epidemic if Black faith leaders engage in the fight against HIV, in 2010, the NAACP, with support from Gilead Sciences, launched a pilot initiative titled The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative. The purpose of the initiative is to help reverse the severe and disparate impact of HIV on African Americans by empowering pastors with the knowledge and support to preach to their congregations about HIV. As the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, the NAACP is a natural leader to take on this battle against HIV. Born out of the Niagara Movement and its deep connection to the Black faith community, the NAACP has always had a central focus on social justice advocacy. Gilead Sciences, a research-based biopharmaceutical company, has a demonstrated commitment to science, research and innovation in the fight against HIV.
The pilot initiative involved conducting focus groups in 12 highly impacted cities to research how Black Church leaders respond to HIV in their communities, and resulted in the development of HIV educational materials designed for use by faith leaders on the ground. The overwhelmingly positive response to the pilot phase of this initiative is the impetus for the development of the commitment to scale up the initiative and expand its reach. To date, the potential for churches to impact the future of the epidemic has not been fully realized. Church leaders have cited barriers to preaching from the pulpit about HIV that include myths and misperceptions about the virus, a lack of information on local resources for testing and treatment, personal beliefs about sexual orientation and fear of losing either congregants or their denominational affiliation. However, there is evidence that faith leaders are able to overcome these barriers through an approach that reconciles the Black Church's historical social justice mission with its doctrinal commitments.