Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. in the 32nd year of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

by Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, CEO, Gay Men's Health Crisis

On January 15, 2013, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 84 years old. We wonder what he would have thought about six gay men, who later became our founders, and their friends who gathered in a living room in 1981, and began what would become the first AIDS service organization the world, Gay Men's Health Crisis. 

We wonder what Dr. King would have thought about the HIV/AIDS epidemic now in its 32nd year and the social injustices that are still intrinsically linked to it, including homophobia, stigma, discrimination, poverty, racism, sexism, lack of access to health care--and sadly more.

Dr. King and the activists before and after him offer us a profusion of extraordinarily courageous activism to continue to live by and learn from. With each step we take to fight social injustices, one powerful undercurrent remains constant--the importance of service to others. Dr. King taught us, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" 

GMHC was built on the foundation of serving others through the drastic times and the persistent times. That small group of volunteers came forward and bravely struggled to piece together responses to this developing plague when very little response was coming from government officials and elsewhere. Decades later, thousands of volunteers, staff members, board members and supporters have walked our hallways to help those dying of AIDS, to now help people to live with HIV and AIDS. Thirty years ago, we could only provide basic prevention education to people of all racial, gender and sexual identities. Now we offer extended community outreach and HIV testing. Our advocacy for the rights of treatments and funding now includes advocacy for the rights to housing, food and healthcare. 

Our expanded work continues. GMHC's mission "to fight to end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected" reflects the civil rights movement at its core. We remain more committed and vigilant to reduce new HIV infections, care for those living with HIV and AIDS, and fight for human rights for all those affected by HIV and AIDS. As Dr. King once declared, "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."  

During this time of reflection on King's birthday, we join President Obama by encouraging everyone to be of service to others, particularly on Saturday, January 19, National Day of Service, and afterwards. To volunteer at GMHC, please visit gmhc.org, and throughout the country, visit serve.gov.

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