On Dec. 1, we remember the almost 39 million people we have lost to AIDS and turn our thoughts onto those still living with HIV – an estimated 37,000 in Atlanta alone. This year’s 31st annual World AIDS Day provides us with the opportunity to bring our attention to ending this epidemic, community by community, by creating awareness, cultivating education, and bringing people together.

“World AIDS Day is really an opportunity to create education and awareness,” Imara Canady, the National Director of Communications and Community Engagement at AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest non-profit public health organization focused on HIV/ AIDS, told Georgia Voice. “Because of the tremendous advances in medicine, we now know that people are living fruitful, longer lives with HIV. The challenge around that is that now many folks aren’t aware that HIV is still in epidemical stages – particularly among black and brown folks and the Hispanic and Latinx communities – and disproportionately impacting our young people.”

It’s this education, Canady says, that will battle the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS – one of the major roadblocks preventing the complete eradication of HIV/AIDS.

“We need to be clear that first we’ve got to address the issue of stigma and judgment, particularly in communities across the South,” he said. “What we find is that if we’re not talking about HIV/AIDS – not just statistics but prevention mechanisms, selflove, and making wise, empowering, healthy decisions – in places with communities that we know are at high risk of contracting HIV, then there’s a real disconnect. We have to normalize the conversation, not just around HIV and AIDS, but about sexual health and wellness and sexual behavior. The ironic part of this all is that we all came into existence by virtue of a sexual act, but in many spaces throughout the South it’s very taboo to talk about sex. We need more judgmentfree spaces, like in our faith institutions, neighborhoods, or homes.”

AID Atlanta, an affiliate of AHF, works daily to create these kinds of safe spaces, especially among faith institutions. “We often give the faith community a bad rep, but there really are faith leaders trying their best to address the epidemic within their institution,” Canady said. One such religious institution is Covenant Presbyterian Church, who is hosting a World AIDS Day vigil on Dec. 1 from 2-5pm to commemorate and honor those we’ve lost by unveiling a panel of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Living in a time of modernity and technology, AHF recognizes the power of utilizing social media and online influencers to spread the word. “We’re at a critical turning point in our civilization, particularly with social media and all of this technology, to really address the issue of HIV/AIDS in a different and new way,” Canady said. “One of the things we’ve found impactful is the immense use of social media and the immense use of social innovators – those critical influencers that are meeting young people and core audiences in spaces that are not necessarily four walls.”

Social media activity isn’t the only way AHF will be honoring the day: they will also be hosting a concert event. “We know the arts is one of the most non-threatening and safest ways to create education and awareness,” Canady told Georgia Voice. “So, you’ll see that incorporated in the work we do around World AIDS Day.” The concert, which will be held on Dec. 5 from 6-9pm at Center Stage, will be a free event featuring performances from Deborah Cox, Raheem DeVaughn, and K Camp that will honor “our community ambassadors – those unsung voices that may not be at the forefront, may not be names people know in the space, but have been tremendously impactful and influential.”

“World AIDS Day offers the opportunity to really take a moment to honor those that were in the early fight and continue to be in the fight,” Canady continued, “while at the same time creating opportunities for education and empowerment.”

You can reserve your free tickets for AHF’s World AIDS Day concert and find more events across the country at AHF.org/wad.

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