Wiley says South Dallas AIDS Walk designed to target message of HIV awareness to a different community
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor [email protected]
Dallas County has the highest HIV infection rate in Texas, according to county health officials, and some of the highest morbidity rates in the county are in two zip codes: 75215 and 7521o.
Both of those zip codes are in the South Dallas area, and yet, that area remains dolefully underserved when it comes to HIV/AIDS education, outreach and awareness efforts and HIV/AIDS services, according to longtime AIDS activist and educator Auntjuan Wiley.
“When it comes to HIV services and awareness and outreach, we focus on Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff. South Dallas always gets missed,” Wiley said this week. “And the only medical service provider for people with HIV in South Dallas is the Peabody Health Center.”
That’s why, when he was named executive director of the new Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation, Wiley immediately set out to find ways to fill that gap. And when he heard about the idea for an annual South Dallas AIDS Walk from Anthony Chisom, he decided right away to get involved. The first South Dallas AIDS Walk is scheduled for March 19, 2011.
The lead-up to the walk began last Thursday, Nov. 4, with a kick-off party that included Dallas City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson and more. Wiley’s co-chair for the walk is AIDS activist Jai Makokha.
Wiley is quick to stress that the South Dallas AIDS Walk is not meant to compete — either for participants or funds — with AIDS Arms’ LifeWalk, held each year in October in Lee Park. The South Dallas event, he said, is targeting a whole different audience.
And the walk “isn’t just all about the Anthony Chisom Foundation,” Wiley added. “Some of the funds will come to us, yes. But we have other beneficiaries, too.”
Those beneficiaries, he said, include The Afiya Center, which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and reproductive health for women and girls; Welcome House, which provides housing and services primarily for African-Americans with HIV/AIDS; the Ugieki Foundation, which focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and education and provides an online project management system for charitable organizations; AIDS Arms’ Peabody Health Center; and AIDS Interfaith Network.
Wiley explained that well-known interior and floral designer Anthony Chisom began his foundation, which provides financial assistance to people with HIV to help them pay rent and utilities and buy their medications among other things, after a trip to Africa where he saw the devastation the HIV epidemic had caused there.
“He knew then that when he came home he had to do something. He had to get involved. So he started the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation,” Wiley said.
Wiley said he and his steering committee are working to confirm Phil Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, as keynote speaker and grand marshal for the South Dallas AIDS Walk. But, he said, walk organizers need lots of sponsors, vendors, walkers and volunteers. And he hopes that many of the businesses and civil and faith community leaders in South Dallas will come on as partners in this effort.
He said the involvement of the business, civil and religious leaders will be vital to the walk’s success.
“South Dallas is, historically, a hard community to reach with the AIDS awareness and education messages,” Wiley said. “There is still a lot of the fear and stigma and shame surrounding HIV and AIDS in South Dallas that isn’t as strong any more in Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff. So it takes a different approach in South Dallas.
“It is very important that we have an aggressive and strategic community engagement piece to this effort. There needs to be a real conversation with the gatekeepers in this community, the community leaders,” he said. “If we can get them involved, then we have a better chance of getting our message to this community.”
Wiley said the walk will be an annual event, because a one-time thing won’t get the message across.
“You can’t go into this community just once with a message and then leave,” he said. “You have to stay there. You have to be visible. You have to let them know we care. We want them to know that this is ‘a walk in South Dallas, for South Dallas.’ That’s our theme.”
While the obvious goal is to raise awareness and funds, “it’s about a lot more than just charity and awareness. It’s about doing the work. Until there is a cure the work has to be done,” said Wiley, who this month marked his 15th year of living with AIDS and this year marked his 20th year of working in the HIV/AIDS field.
Wiley said, “This is about change. Dallas County has the highest HIV infection rate in Texas. South Dallas has some of the highest infection rates in Dallas County. That has to change. It is just time for a change.”
For more information, contact Auntjuan Wiley by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 214-455-7316.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.