Countdown to Zero: Fight against HIV/AIDS an act of political will

September 13, 2014

'HIV/AIDS now needs to be at the front of the line'

The second day of Countdown to Zero: Just Save One kicked off Sept. 12 with a focus on the campaign moving forward into action.

More time was spent in the track sessions, which are Latinas por la vida (Latina for Life), Native American Young People and Human Sexuality, Training the Trainer and Working Towards an AIDS-Free World.

Leading the session on Training the Trainer are Susan Burton, director of Women and Children's Advocacy for the General Board of Church and Society, and Rev. Anne Gatobu, of Asbury Theological Seminary, who both spoke about how to get people engaged through mobilization and education. Burton said conference participants should think of the event as more of a "justice movement, not a fundraising movement."

"Science has gone as far as it can go; now it's about political will," she said.

Following the session, participants heard from a panel on "Dealing with Stigma," led by Joshua Love of the Colorado AIDS Project. Panelists Kathryn Farrow, of Access Point clean needle exchange, Calvin Gipson, of It Takes a Village, and Manige Osowski, of the Colorado AIDS Project, shared their stories on HIV/AIDS and stigmas and how their line of work strives to break them.

"Stigma so deeply breaks anyone who experiences it," Love said, as he shared the story of his Uncle Pat, who faced deep stigma and ostracism from family because he was a gay man with HIV.

Love asked session participants to help create a living "quilt" through cards. Names of people, alive or dead, who touched lives through HIV/AIDS were written on the cards and then tacked on poster boards to be displayed during the conference.

"HIV/AIDS now needs to be at the front of the line," said Bishop Warner Brown Jr., who spoke at a lunch panel along with Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and Rev. Susan Henry Crowe, of the General Board of Church and Society. He said that Countdown to Zero needs to be as credible as the Imagine No Malaria campaign the United Methodist Church pushed this past year.

How do we talk about that as people of faith? How do we create a community of wellness?" - Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native & Indigenous Ministries, Justice & Discipleship for the General Board of Global Ministries

Bringing the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the forefront is the purpose for the track sessions for Native American Young People and Human Sexuality, led by Rev. Chebon Kernell, of the General Board of Global Ministries. The session aims to "create a space for conversation" for Native American youth facing challenges in health, sex and the presence of HIV.

"How do we talk about that as people of faith? How do we create a community of wellness?" asked Kernell. He said there are enormous cultural effects, namely colonization, that further stigmatize indigenous identity and sexual expression. However, "we're becoming more educated in our numbers," Kernell said.

Indeed, the emphasis on continual conversation on HIV/AIDS was the topic of discussion for many panelists and presenters.

"We've been apathetic," said Linda Bales Todd, co-chair of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. "We see people (with HIV) living productive lives that we marginalize this issue. We tend to shift our interests."

View photos from the event on Facebook.