Black newspaper publishers, Meharry tackle HIV/AIDS with awareness conference in Florida

According to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) to date, more than 230,000 African Americans have died of AIDS, which is nearly 40 per cent of total deaths; and of the more than 1 million people living with HIV in the U.S., almost half are black.

Such a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the African American communities has sparked the nation’s leading African American newspaper organization and one its leading  institutes – Meharry Medical College – to join forces to further impact the fight of increasing awareness and education.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (Region 2) annual regional meeting in Florida this week will be more than just a meeting. In session today, Nov. 17 through tomorrow, Nov. 18, at the Sheraton Orlando North, this conference is slated to be as its theme suggests: “Caring for Communities of Color.”

“I feel that The Mississippi Link newspaper and The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) have a moral obligation to tackle AIDS in a way that will result in saving our communities,” said Jackie Hampton, conference co-chair and publisher of The Mississippi Link. “When Dr. R. B. Holmes, the new president of Region 2 decided to have a  regional meeting  this month with an emphasis on “Save The Family,” I suggested to the NNPA Foundation that we should have a mini conference addressing the AIDS epidemic during this same time; and because the NNPA Foundation already had a grant from CDC to address AIDS, the other board members thought it was a great idea and gave us the go ahead to plan this conference.”

She pointed out that the purpose of the conference is to address what is commonly known and what is not commonly known about HIV/AIDS. This will include prevention, risk factors, treatment, living with AIDS and the social economic factors influencing the course of HIV/AIDS  such as poverty, poor access to health care and unemployment. Hampton said, students are now sharing information with publishers and editors of African American newspapers that they fear living on college campuses due to other students being infected with AIDS. “Our conference speakers, who are coming from Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Nashville will be addressing these concerns and offer life-saving solutions,” said Hampton.

Hampton said Chairperson Holmes, who publishes of the Capital Outlook; Co-chair Tennessee Tribune Publisher Rosetta Perry; and herself have extended invitations to students and student advisors at HBCU’s within Region 2 to be a part of the conference. In Mississippi, students and advisors responding to the invitation represent Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Tougaloo College.

Student advisors and students say they are grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in fighting this horrible epidemic. “Considering that HIV/AIDS is becoming more prevalent among young African Americans, the black press has an even greater duty to keep people informed about prevention and treatment of this disease,” said Alcorn’s Assistant Professor of Mass Communications Toni W. Terrett, Esq.

“It means a lot to me,” said Alcorn’s student Lanira Bledsoe. “I’m honored. I hope to gain a great deal of knowledge about HIV and AIDS at this conference so that I can do my part and help other Alcorn State students become aware of the risks and to let them know how to better protect themselves.”

Clinical Professor Dr. Sunny Fridge, director of programs of JSUTV22 with the Department of Mass Communications, and her graduate assistant Lynda Ledean will represent Jackson State University at the conference. “ As journalists, we play a key role in the dissemination of information to our campus and communities,” Fridge said.  “We are happy to represent Jackson State University as one of the many HBCUs attending this conference.”

Lynda Ledean, a graduate student at Jackson State University, said “I’m looking forward to talking with the panelists and those in attendance and figuring out new and inventive ways to continue [to spread] the message of HIV and ways people can protect themselves and others.”

Eric D. Stringfellow, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Mass Cations at Tougaloo College said, “HIV is probably one of the most relevant topics on our campuses, and it should be top of mind not only for students, but for faculty and administrators as well.” Stringfellow pointed out that Health and wellness is one of our core values at The Harambee.

Tyler Carter, senior  Mass Communication major at Tougaloo and former editor of The Harambee said he was looking forward to learning and representing his school on a national level.

Organizers expect the conference to foster greater knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS for all participants. Students are asked to return to their campuses and write articles in their newspapers and hold similar seminars to help prevent HIV/AIDS at their schools and in their communities.

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