Melissa Harris-Perry | December 01, 2012
>>> we're back with our panel talking about the rate of hiv to go to a woman who has been raising money and awareness for hiv and aids. she is joining us before she has to get ready for the divas simply singing benefit concert tonight. i'm happy to welcome actor, author, and activist, sheryl lee ralph . thanks for being on the show.
>> thank you, melissa. it is great to be here with you. love you, love your show.
>> thank you. cheryl, explain to me, what is diva. what does it stand for?
>> diva stands for divinely inspired, victoriously aids aware on this world aids day . that's what it means. it is an acronym.
>> i understand that part of your interest in an engagement with hiv and aids activist that it touched you personally, that you have lost friends and it has touched the community you are a part of.
>> as an original company member of dream girls on broadway, i lost so many to aids, not hiv . we are talking the early '80s here. i stood witness to such an ugly time in america when men and women were just dropping dead of a mysterious disease and people found it easy to turn their backs and say nothing. it was horrible. it forever changed me.
>> i remember when it began to shift from that when people like magic johnson and others wept public with their hiv diagnosis and their status and all of the sudden, we started to see a shift but i don't think we can forget just how ugly, how brutal and how stigmatizing those early days were, because it continues to have an impact now.
>> absolutely. i mean, i was just reading the newspaper yesterday. in places like south carolina , in prison systems, they still segregate hiv positive prisoners. they still make them wear those white arm bans and send them far away from their family which we all know is one of the greatest things you can have is your family connection. when you send people away, you really break down their will to do better. we still see things like that. earlier in the year, the hershey school wanted to refuse admission to a young hiv man to this great school for a wonderful education, simply because he was hiv positive and they thought that this child was going to be a threat to the overall population of the school. so we still stigma playing a great part in this disease. why and how it gross.
>> absolutely. let me back up a little bit and also bring in the panel here. i want to show a couple of stats that folks just may not be aware of. let's look at the cdc stats on ethnicity and hiv infection . as you see from the 2010 report, in terms of new infections, african-americans are up over 50% of those infections. latinos at nearly 20%. so this is increasingly a black and brown disease in this country. we know also if we take a look at hiv and sex education in the country, i don't want to miss this, that in this country fewer than half of our states have a mandated sex education . only 33 states having mandated hiv education. you and i were talking about on the break, education is part of this. we are looking at those kind of stats for our young people and not bothering to talk about this in the school.
>> this is a big problem. education is the foundation of how people are going to prevent transmission. w we talked about it. it has a very tight link to this issue of poverty as well. when people don't know they are infected and don't know how it is transmitted, this creates a big problem for ongoing infection.
>> and communication is important. communication, communication.
>> sheryl, talk to me a little bit. i live in the city of new orleans . our hiv and aids infection rates, as well as people living with the disease is quite extraordinary in our city. we have some incredible activists trying to do work there. if you are an ordinary citizen, how do you push back and be of service on world aids day ?
>> i tell people, get involved, get informed, get the proper information and talk about it. as i cross this country, talking about aids, sexual health and well-being, i'm shocked as how many people cannot talk about sex, how many parents in this new millennium cannot figure out how to have a sex conversation in an age appropriate way with their children. people continue to act like it doesn't happen. i'm shocked. we've got to figure out how to talk about this. why is it parents don't want schools to talk about sex if they are not going to talk about sex in their own home?
>> if you give young people the proper information, you would be shocked at the much better choices they would make for themselves and their sexual well-being.
>> sonia, is that your experience as an activist going around and meeting young folks ?
>> i would have to say that really resonated with me. when we talk about prevention, it is just really interesting to see how our own discomforts, how our own stigmas end up filtering up to this institutional level, in this case, we're talking about sex education in the schools. it is really like i'm going to go back to that metaphor that i used the tools in the prevention tool box . we need to have sex education that is not only, here is how hiv is transmitted. what does a healthy relationship look like? how does that happen? in addition to that, what are the tools that people, men and women, can use in order to protect themselves?
>> thank you to everyone. there is so much still still to talk about. but this is a day where all of us remember and sheryl lee ralph in los angeles , i am again -- really anytime you want to come and talk about anything but especially thank you for your work on this question.
>> thank you. thank you, melissa.
>>> after the break, what a jersey girl is doing changing lives in the african nation of liberia. our foot soldier