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It’s Time to Demand Respect for Black People With HIV, Activist DeclaresIn an Impassioned Speech, Sheryl Lee Ralph Implores the Media to “Do Something Different”

Posted by pozlife on October 3, 2008

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On Aug. 4, a panel of African-American HIV community leaders held an emotional press conference in which they expressed frustration and anger about the lack of attention being paid to the HIV epidemic among U.S. blacks. Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress and long-time HIV activist, was one of those who spoke. Here is the text of her speech. (You can also click here to read or hear TheBody.com’s interview with Ralph.)

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph

I thank everybody sitting up here today. I thank them all for the kind of work that they have been doing for so long. But to all of you sitting out there who have the power of the pen, to everybody out there who is going to write a story, to everybody out there who is going to push a button and send a message out into cyberspace: I need you to do something different! It cannot be business as usual when it comes to black people and AIDS, black people and AIDS in America, black people and AIDS around the world! Something must be done differently. Because, if you sprechen sie Deutsches, AIDS is a problem. ¿Usted habla español? El SIDA es una problema. Vous parlez français? Le SIDA est un problème. You speak English? AIDS is a problem. And I want you to deal up front and in your stories about the “ism.” Because “ism” is playing a big part in what has happened, what does not happen, and what will not happen in the future if we don’t do something different.

I had a moment. I spoke with Senator Hillary Clinton. And I said, “Senator, what about AIDS in America?” She stopped what she was doing. She turned to me and she said, “If AIDS were affecting the general population the way it is affecting women of color, black women especially, there would be a national health emergency.” That was two years ago. Two days ago, the report came out from the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that the numbers of AIDS, as it had been calculated in black America, are far more than they expected. When will the national emergency take place? When will somebody get truly outraged? When is somebody going to value black people?

I’m not a charity case. I’m not a poverty case. I’m not looking for a handout. I am looking to be valued as a full, complete, human being, whether I am on the continent of Africa, whether I’m on the hills in Japan, whether I am in Hawaii, whether I am in the mountains of Central America. If I am Negro, Cimarron, I want to be valued as a human being. [in accented English] I want you to listen to me when I talk to you and I have an accent. I want you to know that I am important, just like you. [ends accented English] I want you to look at black me and stop looking past me. Stop looking around me. I need a seat at the table. I need a seat at the table! [applause]

Stop writing policy for me, and you haven’t really talked to me. Stop telling me what I need to be doing, and you don’t know me. So if you have got the power of the pen, you’re going to push that button into the Internet; I need you to write and do something different. Because I am black. I am in the world. And I matter just like anybody else. [applause]

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