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As I reflect on Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech, I am reminded that we have failed to fulfill the promise of that vision. Yes, we have failed economically. We have failed socially. And we have failed in addressing the staggering epidemic of HIV in African Americans, particularly Black men who have sex with men.

How bad is the crisis?

The CDC provides the following:

New HIV Infections
–African Americans accounted for an estimated 44% of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents (aged 13 years or older) in 2010, despite representing only 12% to 14% of the US population.

–In 2010, black men accounted for 70% (14,700) of the estimated 20,900 new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent blacks. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for black men (103.6/100,000 population) was seven times as high as that of white men, twice as high as that of Latino men, and nearly three times as high as among black women.

–In 2010, black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM)a represented an estimated 72% (10,600) of new infections among all black men and 36% of an estimated 29,800 new HIV infections among all MSM. More new HIV infections (4,800) occurred among young black MSM (aged 13-24) than any other age or racial group of MSM.

–In 2010, black women accounted for 6,100 (29%) of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent blacks. This number represents a decrease of 21% since 2008. Most HIV infections among black women (87%; 5,300) are attributed to heterosexual sex. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women (38.1/100,000 population) was 20 times as high as the rate for white women, and almost five times as high as that of Latinas.

As I read these statistics I am forced to recall MLK’s urging in his speech, 50 years ago:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

The fierce urgency of now remains. There is no time for the drugs of gradualism, nor to cool off as we “consider” what to do about the HIV epidemic. Today, criminalization appears to disproportionately impact men of color — both over HIV as well as other sorts of ‘crimes.’ Today, discrimination on the basis of infection with HIV is as prevalent as ever, and knowledge of the infection is lower than should be acceptable 30 years into the epidemic.

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