Suffolk women bring HIV/AIDS awareness

Published 9:07 pm Monday, December 3, 2018

On Saturday’s cold, rain-soaked night, the women of the Suffolk Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. gathered under their tent. They prayed with their faces lit softly by electric candles in their hands and lit brightly by the streetlight outside the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum on North Main Street.

The rain patted and dripped off the tent as the Rev. Betty Montgomery led the litany of prayer and confession. It was a reading for those living and dying with HIV/AIDS.

“We pray for all who are ill, that they may have courage, strength and hope,” Montgomery said, with more than two dozen chapter members — along with members of other local sororities and fraternities and other attendees — listening in silence.

Email newsletter signup

This is the third annual event the sorority has held in observance of World AIDS Day, an international effort to raise awareness of causes of the disease and mourn those who have died from infection.

Members donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and other toiletry products. There were also generous donations from other individuals and Hampton Inn Suffolk, according to chapter President Tina Paul.

These will be used to help patients with HIV/AIDS throughout the region. After the illuminated service, members moved the baskets of supplies to their cars. They carefully covered these donations against the rain.

The weather didn’t cooperate, but the service went on unimpeded.

“As far as the rain is concerned, it doesn’t stop the disease from spreading, so we can’t stop spreading awareness,” Paul said. “The message is too important to be discouraged by the rain.”

Saturday was the 30th anniversary of the founding of World AIDS Day, the first global health day, according to Globally 36.7 million are estimated to have the virus, and despite it only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of AIDS.

“It is one of the most destructive pandemics in history,” said Pharnethia Jackson, chairperson of the physical and mental health committee.

Decades have brought breakthroughs in HIV testing, treatments and medication. Jackson emphasized how people can have blood tests done locally and cheaply, and urged everyone to “know your status.”

“Recent reports suggest that only 75 percent of those with HIV are aware of their status. This means about 9.4 million people with illness do not realize they are HIV positive,” Jackson said.

Each member wore a red ribbon for HIV/AIDS awareness. According to Jackson, the importance of World AIDS Day is to remind the public and the federal government that this fight is still raging like a downpour.

“Today is important, because it reminds the public and our government that HIV has not gone away,” she said. “There is still a vital need to raise money for research, increase awareness to fight prejudice and improve education.”