1-year old Dallas group reaches out to African-American men to combat rising substance abuse and HIV rates
Officials at the 1-year-old services organization Abounding Prosperity Inc. plan to expand the agency’s program to address the health and social and economic status of African-American men, officials said.
“We want to be a bridge,” said founding chief executive officer Kirk Myers. “We need all of our voices. The healthier we are, the more united we are, the more powerful we are.”
The organization’s offices at 1816 Peabody Ave. in Dallas, are in the heart of the community it plans to serve. Currently, Abounding Prosper-ity focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention. The group offers substance abuse counseling and education through Project HOPE (Helping Other People Equally). They are also collaborating with the Dallas County Health and Human Services HIV/STD division to provide free testing to clients.
AIDS Arms Inc. and the Peabody Health Clinic will assist with case management.
The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the African-American population is alarming in Dallas County, according to the 2005 Surveillance Report, with 40 percent of new HIV cases found in the black community, compared to 45 percent for whites. For new AIDS infections, Dallas County reported 39 percent for African-Americans, surpassing the 37 percent in European-American AIDS cases. According to the Web site FedStats.gov, African-Americans accounted for 20.9 percent of the Dallas County population in 2005.
According to Myers, social and economic factors affect the prevalence of the disease. Young men may have sex for food, money and housing, he said. For this reason, the group plans to expand their services as funding increases, to address non-health issues that affect people’s well-being.
“It’s a systematic approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention,” said Jon Haack, a board member since spring of this year. “When your spirit is down, it can manifest itself in your body as well, and vice versa. In the comprehensive approach we would like to take, as funding develops, the person and their family will do better if they have hopes for the future. They’ll be less likely to engage in risky behaviors.”
When a person has a positive outlook regarding their health, mental state and finances, they are more likely to live in a healthy way, said Haack. He said that when people keep their eyes to the future and feel hope, they will experience less stress and there’s less likelihood for drug and alcohol use.
Abounding Prosperity also works to provide transitional housing to those who need it at The Prosperity House. Right now, two people live in the facility, which is capable of housing six individuals. The group is also working to secure another shelter that would house 12 people, but they need more money for renovations.
Because Abounding Prosperity is totally community supported, funding is a constant obstacle to their goals, officials said.
“We have no government funding we’re concerned citizens,” said Myers. “We just got a significant contribution from Trammel Crow, which we’re very thankful for. But still, he’s a heterosexual white male, when there should be more support coming from the black community.”
One of the many reasons that Abounding Prosperity started was because of a recognized lack of indigenous community groups for African-Americans in Dallas and Houston, Myers said. While many organizations, including AIDS service groups, cater to the African-American population, they are not composed of African-Americans, according to Haack.
“For someone who’s not part of the African-American community to attempt to deliver services, it is a very challenging prospect,” said Haack. “For an agency to reach that particular community, [having] representatives from that community on staff and the board and [having] a location within the community makes services more accessible. This particular agency is meeting a need in the community that was not being addressed elsewhere.”
Venton Jones, who has volunteered with Abounding Prosperity for about a year, agrees that it is important to represent the community in the organization. He received his degree in community health from Texas A&M University and met Myers through a mutual friend.
“People are involved in the community,” Jones said of Abounding Prosperity. “It’s easier to connect because they’re not strangers. They’re people in the community.”
However, while connecting like with like makes things easier, a deep silence within the African-American community about HIV/AIDS continues to challenge the group’s prevention efforts, Myers said.
“The fear is driving the lack of discussion,” Meyers said. “They don’t deal with it or talk about it.”
This denial and a general lack of knowledge can enable risky behaviors such as unprotected sex and intravenous substance abuse, spreading the disease even further, officials said.
Also, although some African-American men who have sex with men are out, many keep it on the “down low,” said Myers. Dishonesty in the bedroom can lead to the infection of an unsuspecting wife or girlfriend, he said.
“The fear causes inaction,” Myers said.
Abounding Prosperity also targets previously incarcerated men for outreach. Currently, HIV/AIDS spreads at a rampant rate in the prison system. According to the 2005 Texas HIV/STD Surveillance Report, 3,518 cases of HIV/AIDS were found in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Only Harris, Dallas and Bexar Counties surpassed these numbers in Texas.
Myers suspects that politics play a big part in the health crisis for inmates.
“People don’t want to talk about same-sex sex in the prisons,” he said. “They think we’re not supposed to be providing pleasure opportunities by passing out condoms. What they’re forgetting is that these folks will be released back into the population in the future.”
Although Abounding Prosperity does not work directly in the prison system at this time, they hope that increased funding will lead the way.
“If there’s one part of our community that’s sick, then all of our community is sick,” Myers said. “The key is prevention. It always has been.”
In addition to target populations, Abounding Prosperity addresses HIV/AIDS where it’s needed most: in the clubs. Jones works outreach at local nightlife hot spots, passing out condoms and literature. He hopes that with increased funding in the future, a focus group can be developed for the target population of African-American men ages 15 to 23. The group would look at socio-economic issues as well as health problems. Hopefully, he said, the group can develop mentor relationships within the community.
“Why is this disease so prevalent?” Jones wondered.
“It’s an important question for Dallas County, because there’s no other group focused on African-American men.”
To find out more, visit www.apdallas.org or call 214-565-9500. Donations can be mailed to 1816 Peabody Dallas, Texas 75215.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 15, 2006