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Community mobilization

Ray Jordan | 12/16/2013, 7:47 a.m.
We’ve heard the alarming statistics. The HIV rate in Black America rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 187,000 African Americans ...

The TB/HIV/STD Unit of the Texas Department of State Health Services has been one of the initial state agencies around the country to partner with the APA and NASTAD to create grassroots community mobilization. “While we still believe individual behavior and making responsible health decisions is important, we can no longer neglect the institutional barriers that have exasperated the HIV crisis among African Americans,” said Darriane Martin, Hutchins-native and the HIV/AIDS Minority Health Coordinator for the state of Texas. “Therefore, the work of both the Texas Black Women’s Initiative and the Minister’s Roundtable of Texas are incredibly important in helping local communities not only recognize those barriers but feel empowered to fight against them.”

The Texas Black Women’s Initiative and Minister’s Roundtable of Texas are products of the recent shift toward local empowerment and community involvement. Each has regional teams (Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Golden Triangle, Houston, Tyler and the Department of Criminal Justice) working with community partners at the organizational, community and policy levels to jointly develop strategies to combat structural barriers.

Among their objectives both for and among Black women and the faith community, respectively, is increasing awareness of HIV disparity in African Americans, identifying and recruiting potential partners, collaborating with partners to develop appropriate strategies and interventions, and serving as subject-matter experts while also providing technical assistance and support to community partners working to reduce disparities in the determinants of health.

Another example of such initiatives is a local gathering of stakeholders within the Dallas Black MSM (men who sleep with men), gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Much like the initiatives surrounding Black women and the involvement of the Black faith community, this group is also an extension of a new socio-ecological model that emphasizes community, public policy and the environmental influences of behavior, rather than the traditional sole focus of the individual.

“This endeavor is about diverse individuals representing a diverse community, yet gathered around a shared vision,” said Alex Byrd, South Regional bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and facilitator of the group (which is currently known as The Community). “Our goal is not to provide direct services such as testing, which is currently offered by a variety of great organizations in the city. Our goal is to be an aggregate of the community, working in collaboration with other groups to maximize the community’s fight against the spread of HIV.”

While each initiative is different, all three represent a fresh approach to an old problem. And though the approach is new, the principle of community empowerment is not. While the federal government is being lobbied for more resources to fight the spread of the disease, communities are being galvanized to take control of their own destiny.

“Historically, local communities have often known what works best for them,” insisted Byrd. “Particularly among African Americans, local communities and churches have always been at the forefront of every social issue affecting them, and the HIV epidemic is no different. We’ve gotten through other storms, and with community cooperation and collaboration, I’ve confident God will see us through this one as well.”

For more information regarding individual or church involvement in local community mobilization efforts, please contact Darriane Martin at darriane.martin@dshs.state.tx.us.