Prominent HIV activists teamed up in Harlem last week to shine a light on the stigma still surrounding AIDS through a town hall conversation. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
With a quick prick of the finger, Rep. Charles Rangel and R&B singer Alicia Keys were tested for HIV.
They were putting to action their words spoken during a town hall conversation with the Harlem community about the high rate of HIV infection among blacks.
"The biggest problem that we're facing now is ignorance," Rangel says.
Keys has been an international HIV advocate for nearly a decade, focusing on the pandemic mainly in Africa. Recently, though, she's shifted her focus to the U.S., and Harlem is a neighborhood close to her heart, where the rate of HIV diagnosis is among the highest in the city, second only to her hometown, Hell's Kitchen.
"We've advanced so far that perhaps that's one of the reasons why we're a bit complacent about it, because we're not seeing those drastic effects anymore," Keys says. "So we kind of think, 'Oh, OK, we're cool over here, we're kind of good,' but we're not kind of good."
The fastest-growing number of newly diagnosed are black women. HIV-positive activist Steph Brown suggests it's because women rely too much on men to know whether they're infected.
"We can have the conversation with our girlfriends, with our mothers, but when we get in that bedroom, that man is the last word that we hear, and it's too much dependency on his word, when he doesn't even know his status himself," Brown says.
Keys encouraged young women especially to stand firm and ask the necessary questions, and even for proof of testing from potential partners.
"We can say, 'You know what? I'm not doing that with you because here's my standards, here's the test you have to pass before you can come into my space,'" she says.
The key, according to Keys, is talking to those you know and love, making conversations about STDs, AIDS and HIV commonplace.
"It's not hard to understand and get deeper into and realize that obviously you can live, you can live with HIV/AIDS," she says. "It's not a death sentence anymore."
They also encouraged people take their conversations to social media in the hopes of bringing new fire to the AIDS prevention movement.