The theme of this year’s ESSENCE Fest was “Bring the Love” and we sure did!
Jussie Smollett, star of FOX’s hit TV show Empire, headlined a special ESSENCE Empowerment Experience panel on The Power of Love & Family: Ending AIDS in Black America for Greater Than AIDS and Black AIDS Institute at ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans.
“Love is the root of everything,” said Smollett. A long-time advocate and Greater Than AIDS supporter, Smollett shared empowering words about the power of love and family to remove stigma and end AIDS. “This shaming has to stop. It would save so many lives.”
Soledad O’Brien moderated the dynamic hour-long conversation that also included Greater Than AIDS Ambassadors Otis and his mother LaTongia and Dr. Leo Moore. They talked about the role Black families, and especially women – as mothers but also as “aunties,” sisters, friends, and more – play in the lives of young Black men, in particular those who are gay and at highest risk for HIV in safeguarding their health and well-being, regardless of HIV status.
“The only ways that we’re going to decrease HIV is to decrease the amount of new infections and to keep those who are positive at undetectable viral loads or having so little of the virus in their blood that it’s undetectable and makes it harder for it to be transmitted,” Dr. Moore told the audience.
Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, accounting for more new infections and deaths than any other race or ethnicity in the United States.
Moore, Smollett, Otis and LaTongia agreed that when it comes to HIV, shame is the enemy and knowledge is power.
Smollett said he hoped people would be moved to action by Otis and LaTongia’s words. “I hope there’s a mother or a father in the audience that hears their story and goes home and says, ‘I really should talk to my son or my daughter about getting tested’.”
Throughout the festival weekend, thousands stopped by the Greater Than AIDS booth to get tested for HIV, pick up HIV informational materials and take a photo to show how they are Greater Than HIV! With test kits donated by Biolytical and counseling provided by the Louisiana Department of Public Health, in just three days, Greater Than AIDS and partners provided more than 1,000 HIV tests and an additional 10,000 pieces of informational HIV materials!
You can check out it all out for yourself! The full hour long program is available to view on the Greater Than AIDS page on YouTube.