Communities across the city joined the nationwide effort Sunday to mark the ninth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with education, outreach and free testing. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
From church congregations to movie theaters, HIV and AIDS awareness was the main attraction Sunday in an event aimed at African-Americans.
According to the New York State Department of Health, blacks are 10 times more likely to be newly diagnosed with HIV than whites.
"Most people find they are HIV positive at a time that they are concurrent with AIDs which means they are living seven to 10 years without being tested and don't know their status," said Regina Commedore of Turning Point.
Advocates say for those going 10 years without getting tested or treated, that's 10 years that they might have been infecting others. As a result, they have set a goal to get one million people tested in 2010.
"We find that when people are newly infected that's when they are most infectious to others so if we can catch people in that slight window it would be better to reduce the incidents of HIV disease," said Gay Men of African Descent Deputy Executive Director Taylor Akutagawa.
The test -- which was being administered for free Sunday at a mobile site outside the Linden Multiplex in East New York -- involves a short interview and a quick mouth swab. Results are available 20 minutes later, followed by counseling. But testing is only part of the picture. Activists say the other important tool in the battle against HIV is simply talking about it.
"We just need to be talking about it. It needs to be a conversation at the forefront each and every day. And are people talking about? No they're not," said AIDS survivor and activist Maria Davis.
Pastor Connis Mobley of Coney Island's United Community Baptist Church urged members of his congregation, old and young alike, to join in the national discussion and take advantage of free testing being offered on site.
"We want to make sure that we know for our family and friends that it's important to be tested, whether you're married or unmarried it's important for all," Mobley said.
Mobley says the community is getting the message, with more than 60 people showing up to be tested during a similar event on Friday.
While February 7th may be specifically designated as National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness day, advocates say the message needs to be carried throughout the year.
To find out more information about prevention and testing, visit cdc.gov/hiv.