The day 31-year-old Mark L. Briggs was diagnosed as having HIV, a million thoughts flew through his mind.
He imagined himself sick and feeble. He imagined that his days of working and bodybuilding were over.
Since his diagnosis in 1997, Briggs has faithfully adhered to a daily regimen of medications--a regimen that he says is the reason those fears have not been realized.
Today Briggs will share his experience with the nation in a satellite teleconference on AIDS in the African American community. U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher will be the host.
Billed as the largest World AIDS Day event, the conference will electronically link speakers at five historically black colleges and universities, including Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, and will be carried over the World Wide Web at https://www.blackfamilies.com.
The themes of the conference are prevention, testing and the availability of effective treatments. Such treatments are often underused in minority communities.
“I think if people see the benefits, a person who is a living testimony, they will at least consider . . . using the medication,” said Briggs, program coordinator for HIV prevention programs at the Watts Health Center.
Emphasizing the impact of HIV and AIDS on African Americans recognizes the devastating impact of the disease among people who are not white or gay. African Americans make up about 12% of the U.S. population but nearly 37% of reported AIDS cases.
“We wanted to . . . link with the authority of historically black colleges and the community-based organizations that serve the African American community,” said Miguel Gomez, policy analyst in the surgeon general’s office. “We wanted to show a unified message. This isn’t just the government speaking, it’s government and nongovernmental organizations.”
The teleconference will be simulcast from Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.; Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. Each site will have a person living with HIV or AIDS, health care officials and a community-based organization that serves people with HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Eric P. Goosby, director of HIV/AIDS policy in the surgeon general’s office, will speak in Los Angeles about the reasons some African Americans are not receiving early treatment.
Those reasons vary, he said, and include limited financial resources, a lack of faith in the medications and a “basic mistrust of medical institutions in general, that is in part based on fear of being experimented on a la Tuskegee.”
In the Tuskegee experiment, African American men with syphilis were denied treatment as part of a government study that lasted from 1932 to 1972.
The African American community, in addition, he said, has “been so burdened by a lack of a medical infrastructure for such a long time, its own self perception of what it is entitled to is at a lower level.”
In Los Angeles, the teleconference will take place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the auditorium of King/Drew Magnet High School and is open to the public. Organizers hope the event will heighten discussions about the epidemic.
“This is not just a one-time only affair,” said Cynthia Davis, an assistant professor at Drew University’s department of family medicine. “This is going to be a sustained initiative from the surgeon general’s office. This is just the kickoff.”
The teleconference is one of many World AIDS Day events taking place in Los Angeles this week.
On Wednesday, a commemoration will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the California African American Museum. The event will include a panel of African American women and Latinas infected with the virus, gospel performances and a presentation by Hydeia Broadbent, a teenager whose moving and insightful talks about her battle with the illness strike a chord with audiences. Participants are asked to bring a doll or blanket that will be given to a youth with HIV.
In Lincoln Heights, community members who have lost family and friends to AIDS will gather Wednesday for an interfaith service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church marking the sixth annual Noche de las Memorias, or Night of Memories. The annual event is organized by The Wall-Las Memorias Project, an East Los Angeles AIDS outreach group which plans to build a memorial in Lincoln Park in memory of Latinos who have died of AIDS. The eight-panel monument, patterned after the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., will list the names of about 2,000 Latinos who have died of AIDS in Los Angeles.
After the service at Sacred Heart Church, participants will march in a candlelight procession to the proposed site of the memorial in Lincoln Park. The founder and executive director of the wall project, Richard Zaldivar, said members of the Los Angeles City Council are expected to announce a $75,000 donation to the memorial at the ceremony.
U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Julian Dixon will hold a town hall meeting at Southwest Community College from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday. Topics include AIDS and the black church and AIDS as a civil rights issue.
Los Angeles County and the American Assn. for World Health are holding a “Call to Action” breakfast Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency downtown.
At 7 p.m. The AMASSI Center will hold a cultural festival focusing on youth in South Los Angeles and Inglewood. The event will emphasize cultural affirmation and HIV risk reduction.
AIDS will be the theme of sermons at churches, including the Faithful Central Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday.
Times staff writer Margaret Ramirez contributed to this story.