WASHINGTON WATCH: How Can We Stop The Spread Of HIV/AIDS Amongst College Students, Young People 13 – 24

Let’s talk about the serious subject of HIV/AIDS in our community, and especially what is happening on HBCU campuses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, college students account for about 55 percent of all HIV infections among those ages 13 to 24. Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute; actresses Sheryl Lee Ralph and Vanessa Williams, both long-time HIV activists joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss how to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome to “Washington Watch” from Hollywood.  We have lots of stars and lots of fun coming up on our show; but, first, let’s talk about the serious subject of HIV/AIDS in our community, and especially what is happening on HBCU campuses.

According to the Center[s] for – for Disease Control and Prevention, college students account for about 55 percent of all HIV infections among those ages 13 to 24.  We’re talking about how to get the message out there and stop the spread of HIV and AIDS with Phil Wilson – he is the founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute; actresses Sheryl Lee Ralph and Vanessa Williams, both long-time HIV-AI- — HIV activists.

Well, folks, [we’re] certainly glad to have you on “Washington Watch.”

Phil, you know this is a[n] issue that I’ve talked about for years.  Black folks say, “Well, let’s not really deal with [it].”  But we’re now in a situation where the face of AIDS is a Black, heterosexual woman, and we’re sitting here acting as if, “Well, things are okay.  Things have changed.”  We see Magic Johnson.  He’s thriving.  But this is literally killing another generation of young Black folks.

MR. PHIL WILSON:  Yes. Roland.  AIDS in America today is a Black disease, and the only way that we’re going to be able to end the AIDS epidemic in America is to address the AIDS epidemic in Black America.  And what’s important to know is that we actually have the tools to do that.


MR. WILSON:  We have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic – but it’s going to require all of us to get involved, and it’s going to require for us to focus on those communities that are most impacted, and that includes Black college students.

MR. MARTIN:  Here’s what I don’t understand, Sheryl Lee and Vanessa.  We always talk about ‘it’s about education, education.”  So, how in the world could we be seeing this increase with college students, folks who are the best and the brightest of Black America who are supposed to be educated?

MS. SHERYL LEE RALPH:  This is so interesting that you say this, because I – before I came here, I was speaking with a student on a college campus, and he said to me, “Miss Ralph, something is wrong.”  He says, “Why is it that we spend so much time trying to promote concert after cro-” – “concert, and we cannot promote health information and the things that really matter to us?”  “We are supposed to be” — what you just said – “the best and the brightest.  What has gone wrong?”


MS. RALPH:  So, the good part is that they’re now thinking.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — um-hum.

MS. RALPH:  They’re now seeing it.  That’s how young folks learn – when they accept it.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Exactly.  It’s about being on that leading edge, that –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — cutting edge and, as we like to say at the Black AIDS Instita- — In- — Institute, about “getting in the game.”  And because we represent Black Hollywood, and folk like to follow the people that they like about what they do, the coalition of – of – of Black celebrities here in Hollywood are all about taking that charge and being the face to say, “Get in” – “Get in the game.”


MS. WILLIAMS:  “Know your status.”

MR. MARTIN:  — I spoke –

MS. RALPH:  But young folks –

MR. MARTIN:  — I —

MS. RALPH:  — also feel like they are – they feel like Superman and Superwoman.


MS. RALPH:  They feel it’s somebody else’s fight.  It –

MR. MARTIN:  — right.

MS. RALPH:  — feels like – it’s like, “It’s got” –

MS. WILLIAMS:  But that’s –

MS. RALPH:  — “nothing to” –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — why we[’ve] got to tell –

MS. RALPH:  — “do with me.”

MS. WILLIAMS:  — them that it’s –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MR. WILSON:  But it’s a- —

MS. WILLIAMS:  — them.

MR. WILSON:  — and also, in fairness, you know, we’ve had a decade of no sex education, no AIDS education –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Exactly.

MR. WILSON:  — that the message in the schools has been abstinence only.  So, we have a whole generation of college students that have been – have not been given the tools that they need to protect themselves –

MR. MARTIN:  — I –

MR. WILSON:  — and that’s outrageous.

MR. MARTIN:  — I spoke at – [crosstalk]- —

MS. RALPH:  And they don’t use the tools –

MR. WILSON:  That’s right.

MS. RALPH:  — that can protect them.

MR. MARTIN:  — I –

MS. RALPH:  We talk about condoms, but it’s not like they’re putting them on.

MR. MARTIN:  — I spoke at Ohio State, and as a part of any speech I give, I’m always challenging folks to say, “How are you going to commit yourself to changing our community?”  And so I had everybody write down what they wanted to commit [to] for the next – for the next year.  And several of them said HIV-AIDS.

I said, “Okay, fine.”  I said, “But here’s my question.”  I said, “How many of you have challenged or even asked your dorm mates” –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — “have they been tested?”

Hands didn’t go up.

I said –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  “Wait a minute.”  I said, “Help me out here.  So, how can you say you want to work to eradicate this disease, but you’re unwilling to ask the very people who’re sitting right next to you?”

What that tells me is they are saying, “I want to fight it theoretically” –



MR. WILSON:  [Crosstalk.]

MR. MARTIN:  — “but I’m afraid to ask” –

MS. WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] – of –

MR. MARTIN:  — “the very people right next to me” –

MS. RALPH:  The conversation –

MR. MARTIN:  — “‘Have you been tested?’”

MS. WILLIAMS:  — or even –

MS. RALPH:  — the conversation’s –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — ask themselves

MS. RALPH:  — not happening.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — knowing their own status –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — you know, because the – let’s not forget there’s still a lot of shame around it.  There’s a lot of shame around sex, in general –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — and – and homosexuality.

MS. RALPH:  Folks – [crosstalk] – hard to say “sex.”

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yeah.  You know, they –


MS. WILLIAMS:  — can hardly say –

MS. RALPH:  Two twe- —

MS. WILLIAMS:  — “sex.”

MS. RALPH:  — 2012, they can hardly say, “Sex!

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yeah, so –

MS. RALPH:  “Can we talk” –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — any –

MS. RALPH:  — “about sex?”

MS. WILLIAMS:  — ca- — “Let’s talk” –

MS. RALPH:  You know?

MS. WILLIAMS AND MS. RALPH:  — “about sex.”


MS. WILLIAMS:  [Laughs.]

MS. RALPH:  Can’t say that.

MS. WILLIAMS:  And know your status and – and – and be about really making it a personal commitment, as you –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — as you charged them.

MR. MARTIN:  Do – do we also – and, look – and, Phil, I’ve – I’ve worked with you, worked with the Magic Johnson Foundation on this issue.  But is it also a case that we do not have the same infrastructure in place in terms of African-Americans in Capitol Hill and in statehouses, demanding also where resources are allocated?

MS. WILLIAMS:  There ya go.

MR. MARTIN:  I’ve talked to Black AIDS organizations locally, and they said, “Man, it’s tough to even get a few dollars here,” but they said, “but in White, gay, male communities, strong.”

MR. WILSON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  So, is tha- — that – is that also part of –

MR. WILSON:  Oh, a- — a- —

MR. MARTIN:  — the problem here?

MR. WILSON:  — a- — absolutely.  You know, who’s at the table when the decisions are made is critically important –


MR. WILSON:  — you know?  And when – you know, the- — there’s a saying is – that, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you might be on the menu”?  And that’s –


MR. WILSON:  — one of the things that’s – that –

MS. RALPH:  [Laughs.]  Oh –

MR. WILSON:  — that – that’s –

MS. RALPH:  — okay!  [Claps.]

MR. WILSON:  — happening.  So, it is important that people who look like us, you know, in fact are at the tables where the decisions are being made.


MR. WILSON:  It’s also important that folks who look like us are the messengers, because the messenger –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. WILSON:  — matters –

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MR. WILSON:  — you know.  And that’s why the infrastructure’s important.  And what’s happening right this moment – you know, the – the HIV-AIDS infrastructure in Black communities is being extr- — i- — is being destroyed across this country, and we need to respond to that, because at the very moment when we have the potential to end –


MR. WILSON:  — the AIDS ep- — epidemic –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MR. WILSON:  — we will not have the infrastructure to actually use those tools.  And that’s important.

MR. MARTIN:  Final –

MS. RALPH:  You know –

MR. MARTIN:  — comment from the both of you.

MS. RALPH:  — you know what?  It’s so interesting, because I’m listening to what the both of you are saying.  But you want to know who’s got to show up for you when you’re in the middle of the fight?  You[’d] better doggone be wed- — ready to show up for yourself.

OFF CAMERA:  That’s right.

MS. RALPH:  Since the beginning – since this disease has hit us as a community, we have been the last ones to speak up and show up for ourselves.  The difference between gay, White men and this disease and Black folks and this disease is when it hit gay, White folks hardest, they organized.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Exactly.

MS. RALPH:  They strategized.  They came together.  They marched on Washington, and they said, “I don’t – [pounds the table] – care what think about me or my sexual preference.  I, too, am a taxpaying American, and I deserve your help now!”  That’s what they get.  We are the last people to show up for ourselves.

The AIDS quilt – and he and I were talking about this last week –

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum?

MS. RALPH:  — is 55 miles long.  You know how many miles are dedicated to Black people?  Half a mile, ’cause we will not represent ourselves even in the quilt.

This international AIDS conference – we[’d] better show up in numbers –


MS. RALPH:  — and we[’d] better march on Washington!

MR. MARTIN:  Vanessa.

MS. WILLIAMS:  It’s like I said.  It’s about ‘getting in the game.’  It’s about –

MS. RALPH:  Gotta get –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — being i- —

MS. RALPH:  — in it.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — yes.  It’s about doing what – what you know to do to get educated, to spread the word, to beat the shame and come with it.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, folks –

MS. RALPH:  Stigma, shame and silence – we[’ve] got to break that –

MR. MARTIN:  — I certainly –

MS. RALPH:  — silence.

MR. MARTIN:  — appreciate it.  And as always, you know, with Black folks involved, there will be a shout-out.

MS. WILLIAMS:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  And hot off the press is Sheryl Lee Ralph’s new book.  It is called Redefining Diva:  Life Lessons from the Original Dream Girl.”


MR. MARTIN:  She said this is the first copy.  So –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — Black folks – you got your shout-out, Sheryl Lee.  All right.  There you go.

MS. RALPH:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  All right, then.  Phil, Sheryl Lee, Vanessa, we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Always a pleasure.

MS. RALPH:  Thank you.