St. Stephens recognizes World AIDS Day

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - More than spiritual words were spoken inside St. Stephen C.M.E. Church on Saturday as crowds gathered to receive an education on AIDS.

The cushioned pews were almost filled to capacity with listeners who came to hear HIV/AIDS awareness information, shouting words of "Hallelujah" after local and Bay Area speakers spoke on the issue.

"AIDS is a disease that is practically 100 percent preventable," said master of ceremonies Timothy Alexander White of Oakland. "We need to know about it and exercise the power to prevent it!"

Several groups were lined up to speak at the predominantly black church to evoke the importance of AIDS awareness, especially in the black community.

"There are 40,000 cases of HIV diagnosed every year, of which 50 percent of those are black people!" shouted a member of the Ambassadors for Change, a gospel group from Oakland. "So, every year, there are 20,000 black people who get infected. And we're only 13 percent of the American population. We're in trouble!"

According the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, of all the female cases, 50 percent are black women. And 25 percent of everyone living with HIV doesn't know they have the disease.

The gathering was a result of Solano County's annual commemoration of World AIDS Day, with this year's 25th anniversary at St. Stephen's Church. It is the first time it was ever held in their church.
"I think it's great that St. Stephen's Church is doing this and increasing awareness in the African American community," said Peter Turner, Solano County supervising health education specialist. "African Americans represent 12-15 percent of Solano County's population, yet they represent 33 percent of diagnosed cases."

According to Turner, Solano County has also been at the lowest level of testing since HIV testing began in 1985.

"We're in pre-Magic Johnson levels," he said. "For years, we would have 20 people a week testing for HIV. Now, we're at five a week and at time, none come in."

Outside, a van from the Solano County Health Department provided confidential and free HIV testing.

Meanwhile, as the crowd continued to gather inside the church for a three-hour program on AIDS, including a view of the Solano AIDS quilt, Monica Creer, senior case manager for Planned Parenthood, waited to give her presentation of "Voice of the Virus."

"I play the virus in this and talk about statistical information on AIDS and how HIV is transmitted," she said of her three-minute poem-play she wrote four years ago. "It's important and people need to know about this."