By Susan Mull
Sunday, July 22, began as a spiritual journey for me. Here I am at my third International Conference on AIDS, still seeking to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, still seeking prevention justice, and still seeking treatment justice. I knew I would take part in the March on Washington, but I first sought out the closest Lutheran church to my hotel. It turns out Mt. Olivet was perfect, because not only did they give me time to introduce myself and a chance to invite all of them to the global village, the lesson today was one of justice.
My whole day was one of spiritual encounters. The folks from the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice were at the march with “pro faith, pro family, pro choice” on their posters. The day just kept getting better! The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to all of us about healing. You know Reverend Al has so much savvy and wit and he’s a great truth teller! His message included this: “Jesus healed people, he didn’t interview them first! He didn’t ask them how they got their disease!” The Honorable Andrew Young reminded us that he was also a pastor and told us to never give up. Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke to us via satellite on the big screen and told us that countries cannot waver in their commitments to life saving medications. I was so inspired by this time, but incredible fun was taking place at the same time!
Margaret Cho was our host! She is so incredible and so are all of you! Now, everybody say vagina at once! Yes! Say it! Margaret got us focused on why this Keep the Promise event was so important. Just like the people wearing the AIDS Atlanta t-shirts that said, “Saving and Transforming Lives,” we must commit to being very vocal about what we do in all our communities around the world. We all marched to remind President Obama that we want people in every country of the world to have access to medications.
We were reminded of facts that are far too sobering, such as, the HIV rate of people living with HIV in Washington, D.C. is higher than that of West Africa. HIV is a huge problem in countries as small as Estonia. Nigeria is the country with the highest number of people living with AIDS in the world. 59% percent of new cases in New Jersey are women over 40. Iowa is second in the nation in HIV criminal arrests. South Carolina is the leader in heterosexual transmissions in the U.S.
Dr. Cornell West and Tavis Smiley spoke and Wyclef Jean performed and I was feeling some immediate healing in my soul! Dr. West is such a profound, compassionate genius. I call him Dr. Love! He reminded us all that we need to love and help each other. It doesn’t matter what race or religion you are. What matters is that we must all eradicate the stigma. Wyclef Jean beckoned Tavis Smiley and Dr. West to come out on the stage and dance and they did! I saw beautiful people supporting each other today. Wyclef had us all feeling so much love. That’s where I’m going to end my spiritual journey today. Keep the promise to yourselves to take your meds, eat healthy foods, feed your soul, stay strong, and let us lift up our voices together as we end AIDS! We can end AIDS!