|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2019 at 9:05 AM|
We left history behind this morning and stepped into the present, meeting with Nicole Roebuck, the Executive Director of AID Atlanta (and, we found out, a Lutheran!) They have been working for 37 years to support people living with HIV/AIDS, educate the community about prevention, and provide STI testing. While in the beginning their work was about helping people die with dignity, now, with medical advances, it is about getting medication and healthcare to help them live a healthy life with HIV/AIDS.
The Atlanta area ranks 5th in the nation in HIV/AIDS infections and therefore receives money from the federal government for prevention and to support folks living with the disease. AID Atlanta runs clinics in the city and in more rural areas since Georgia ranks first in the nation in HIV infection rate. While HIV rates are decreasing nationally, they are increasing in Georgia. And 70% of those living with HIV are African American.
High incidence in the area and especially in the African-American community is driven by poverty, racial disparities in healthcare and stigma (about sexual activity outside marriage and homosexuality) that is often both cultural and religious. Especially in rural areas, it’s hard to walk into an AID Atlanta clinic if your whole town will see you do it. Stigma and lack of access to healthcare also drives a higher rate of mother to child transmission, since pregnant women often won’t access pre-natal care due to stigma around pregnancy outside of marriage or thinking they can’t afford it. With medication, we can prevent mother-child transmission.
Georgia, largely driven by a conservative Christian culture, doesn’t have comprehensive sex education in schools, but follows an abstinence-only curriculum. AID Atlanta is only allowed to come and educate in individual classrooms at the request of a teacher and can’t present information to a wider audience in the schools, such as a school assembly.
And most churches (beyond the more progressive ones) are not eager to support their education efforts and to support people with HIV/AIDS. This lack of support is even more common among historically black churches, even though the rate of infection is much higher in the African American community.
But we don’t have to agree with the choices people make regarding sexual activity to advocate for them and support their health. We don’t have to agree with people’s actions to want life for them. And encouraging safer sex when people choose to engage in it doesn’t mean we support all sexual activity no matter what. These teachings can be supported alongside our own faith teaching about honoring God’s gift of sexuality. And caring for our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable is a deep part of who we are always called to be as God’s people.
Merry Mac’s Tea Room
It’s been a long trip. So we switched up our plan for the afternoon and went out for some celebrated southern food at Merry Mac’s. (a treat afforded us by a generous gift from a supporter!!) And over that delicious cornbread and greens and chicken and dumplings and sweet potatoes and mac and cheese and. . . . we talked about how we each got our names and about the places we’re from and enjoyed how good it is to laugh and share as a family made by our week together.
Emmanuel Lutheran, Pastor William Flippin and Do the Right Thing
This afternoon and evening was spent at Emmanuel Lutheran in Southwestern Atlanta. Pastor William Flippin and some folks from Emmanuel hosted us (and treated us to pizza!) and tied in a few more details about the Civil Rights sites that we’d been to so far.
And then we switched things up and watched Do the Right Thing together, the 1989 Spike Lee film to talk about racial relations now and our role in that. We talked about representation of people that look like us in our communities, how we deal with power of other groups when we think that may threaten our own, and how our own prejudices, which we may carefully try to hide much of the time, may rise to the surface when we’re pushed.
Pastor Flippin and his office assistant Linda talked about Atlanta being described as the “city too busy to hate” but that doesn’t mean that prejudice and discrimination isn’t there, but it’s not as obvious as in rural counties. (And in the state it's obvious, since every single state office is held by a white man!) Linda went to school in a rural county and told us that when the schools were forces to integrate back in the 60s, some counties chose to have girls’ schools and boys’ schools, which seemed to play into their need to protect white women from African American men, which has been a continuing refrain throughout our walk through Civil Rights history.
And, driven by the movie, we talked about the tension between Malcolm X’s philosophy of violence when necessary and MLK’s philosophy of non-violence and making decisions about what way we will live and how we will support communities who are hurting and facing injustice. The answers aren’t always clear or easy.
Pastor Flippin encouraged us to think about evolution- how we evolve in our thinking about the ways we engage the powers that be. Especially as we head to the MLK historic site today and look at his tactics before 1965 (which we’ve been seeing this week) and his work from 1965 until his death, which focused on economic disparity and militarism.
We have a choice in how we are going to evolve. I pray that for people of faith, Jesus may be the one leading that change, rather than our often-warped culture and our own internal prejudices, so that we may evolve beyond our fear of the other and our need to protect our power at all costs. And I pray that, following Jesus, we will also learn to love our neighbors by fighting for their need for justice as seriously as we want to fight for our own.
And we ended our day with a free cone at Dairy Queen to celebrate this slightly chilly first day of spring in Atlanta.