D.C. Council members David Grosso and Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Norton take the lead ahead of thousands of participants in the annual Walk to End HIV in Northwest on Oct 28. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. Council members David Grosso and Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Norton take the lead ahead of thousands of participants in the annual Walk to End HIV in Northwest on Oct 28, 2017. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

A sizable crowd converged on Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C. early Saturday morning for a 5K walk/run to support the treatment and cure of HIV/AIDS.

As participants braved the chilly conditions, with many holding steaming coffee cups to ward off the cold morning air, D.C. native Andria Tomlin, 33, said the cause hit close to home.

​”HIV awareness is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Tomlin, adding she has an uncle who has been living with the virus for 15 years.

​The event was organized by Whitman-Walker Health Clinic in Northwest and is affiliated with the Max Robinson Health Clinic in Southeast, both of which treat patients carrying the virus.

In 2014, the rate of black males living with an HIV diagnosis was 2.8 times that of white males living in D.C., according to AIDSVu, a partnership between Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, the pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences and the Center for AIDS Research at Emory. The rate of black females living with an HIV diagnosis is 27.5 times that of white females, the partnership states.

Communities of color experienced the city’s highest rates of HIV infection. African-Americans accounted for 75 percent of newly diagnosed HIV cases while only accounting for 47.4 percent of the city’s population, said the Washington AIDS Partnership, citing information taken from the DC Annual Epidemiology & Surveillance Report released in 2016.

​Tomlin, who is black, said those with HIV or AIDS in the white community are shown more empathy since the virus was first detected and treated in the mid-1980s.

​”I think the overall perception in the black community is that anyone with the virus is looked down upon,” she said.

Tomlin said there needs to be more education on different ways to contract the virus.

“Prevention and treatment are not talked about,” she said.

​Another participant, Kara Johnson of D.C., said that because the publicity surrounding AIDS deaths has stopped, “a lot of people don’t think you can die from it.”

AIDS awareness is not as widespread and popularized as it was during the height of the disease, she said.

“I don’t think they think about it,” Johnson said of the feeling held by many blacks she knows in the D.C. area.

She admitted that AIDS was not something she thought much about until the parent of a close friend contracted the disease.

​Another runner at the race was Darren Smith, who arrived near the start of the race and donned a red T-shirt that the runners wore.

​”No, I believe that we don’t talk about HIV,” he said of the black community, adding he has 12 family members and friends infected with the virus.

Smith has started an organization called “The Respect Yourself Project,” which holds exercise and entertainment events to spread awareness of AIDS and women’s health issues.

He said the black community is afraid to talk about HIV and AIDS because of the stigma associated with it and the LGBTQ community. He asserted that the virus can be spread by heterosexual sex or drug use with unclean needles.

​”We in the black community tend to sweep things under the rug and say it doesn’t happen to us,” Smith said. “It happens to more of us than we think.”

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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