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Health

"Black Love Matters": a Syracuse strategy to tackle AIDS

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As New York state moves towards eradicating AIDS, there's one demographic where the disease continues to grow: the community of color. Syracuse isn’t immune to this trend, so advocates are trying new strategies to reach this population.

ACR Health AIDS educator Lanika Mabrey of Syracuse said her story is pretty typical. She didn’t realize her mother had AIDS until after she died six years ago. 

"I honestly cannot say that I had a passion for it until it was in my house," Mabrey said. "Until I realized I wasn’t paying attention to something I should have been paying attention to."

She said stigma and distrust of the medical profession is pretty typical in a community that has become ground zero for new AIDS cases; almost half of new HIV infections nationally come in the black community that represents 12 percent of the total population. In Syracuse, 43 percent of the HIV positive people served by ACR Health are African American. What concerns Mabrey most are the high number of people out there who don’t know they’re infected.

"We’re looking at about 300 individuals in the city of Syracuse who are HIV positive and don’t know it," Mabrey said. "We’re alarmed at the fact that its mostly people between the ages of 15 and 24. We’re alarmed at the fact that we’re talking about primarily people of color.”

So, Mabrey said the Community of Colors Initiative is looking for new ways to get the word out. Since lectures and community events seem to turn off that 15 to 24 crowd, she’s going to where many younger people congregate. Bars. They’ve created an event called Black Love Matters.

"At a local bar, B and B Lounge, which is often frequented by those of color, the black community,” Mabrey said.

There will be on-site testing for HIV and STDs, an activity involving wristbands that stimulates HIV infection and education, especially about Prep, a pill that can prevent the spread of the infection among sexually active people. Mabrey hopes this is the start of a new kind of outreach that hits home with the black community.

"We would like to continue, maybe going into the bars and doing safe sex trivia, just a number of things, to bring information right to where people are," Mabrey said.