“Get Up, Stand Up”

Nicole Lewis

Young Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Nicole Lewis urges us to answer Bob Marley's call to get up, stand up and do something about it!

"Get Up, Stand Up," he demands over an infectious reggae rhythm and prominent baseline. The steal drums, native to the Islands, usher in his voice which seems to have taken on a powerfully smoky quality. He is at his peak on this record. He sings out understated yet prophetic lyrics he penned himself. You can feel the urgency with which he sings and you are reminded that "Get Up, Stand Up" is more than just a great reggae song; it is an order. It is the music that inspired a movement—a revolution. That mobilized a community to demand that they be given the rights that simply being born on this glorious planet entitle them to. Bob Marley is singing about the right to life—uninhibited life.

33 years after the song appeared on Marley's album, I have been infected with the song's message. Perhaps my revived revolutionary spirit is due to my time at Advocates for Youth, reflecting on the needs and concerns of young women of color. Young Black women are the new face of HIV/AIDS. The overwhelming majority of newly diagnosed AIDS cases are Black women ages 13 to 24. In 2005, Black and Latino women represent 24 percent of all U.S. women, but women in these two groups account for 82 percent of the estimated total of AIDS diagnoses for women in 2005. These women are our sisters, friends, cousins, or aunts. Many of them are mothers or will soon become mothers or grandmothers. HIV/AIDS does not have to be the reality for these women.

For many years, I took this news sitting down. I waited for others to stand up and speak out about the HIV crisis in our community. But, it seems that we don't want to face our awful reality. Maybe we don't want to openly talk about sex for fear that we would be reinforcing the negative stereotype that Black women, Black people in general, are oversexed and promiscuous. Perhaps, we are putting the ability to make change into the hands of people we believe have the power to actually do something. Maybe some of us are not aware of what is really going on or maybe we don't know what to do. Maybe we are all just lazy and uninspired. Or maybe we are all just waiting for a leader to call us to action.

But, our wait might be in vain. Everyday I am reminded that this world does not exactly understand our group's specific needs and concerns. Furthermore, I am convinced that the lack of understanding (that translates into a lack of interest, which reads loud and clear as being undervalued) is wounding young women of color just like me all over this country. Democrats, who we believed would support comprehensive sex education, just increased funding for abstinence-only-until marriage education programs. These programs have been proven not to work. In addition, abstinence-only programs do not provide information about condoms and other contraceptives. As our generation comes of age, we will be sexually active, and we will not have the appropriate information to protect ourselves. Clearly, putting the power into someone else's hands doesn't work.

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So then where does the power and responsibility lie? How do we make change? Change starts with you. As women of color, especially Black women, we have a long history of challenging the status quo. The civil rights movement started because people found their reality unacceptable (racism, segregation, white violence) and they were therefore willing and ready to get up, to stand up, to see that things improved. HIV is preventing our women from living long healthy productive lives, but it doesn't have to be this way.

To start, educate yourself about what is going on in your community. The internet houses a wealth of knowledge about HIV and other STI's. Take some time to visit the CDC or Advocates for Youth's website. Once you have the information, find ways to get involved. There are countless organizations doing the hard work necessary to make HIV history. Write a letter to your congressional representative demanding that they stop funding abstinence-only education. Talk with your friends about HIV in our community. Start a group at your high school or on your college campus. Anyway you see fit to start tackling HIV, do it. Don't take this news sitting down any longer. Think about your life. Demand better for our beautiful Black sisters.

Remember, HIV is completely preventable. Use a condom every time you have sex, whether it is oral, vaginal, or anal. Get tested. Knowing your status is the best way to prevent the further spread of HIV. A major route of HIV transmission is by people who have no idea they are infected. HIV can have no signs or symptoms for years after a person becomes infected. Don't wait until you get sick to go to your doctor. Be proactive! Life is your right and there is no better way to spend that life than healthy and happy.

So, the status quo no longer works for me. I am infected with the sense that I, we, have the power to make a change. I will "Get Up, Stand Up" to see that AIDS becomes part of our past. Will you join me?

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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