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A call to action against HIV/AIDS Peoples notes women of color are affected more

Sometimes drastic results require drastic action.

Those were the words of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, D-Buffalo, on Friday at the HIV/AIDS Forum in the HSBC Arena Harbour Club.

"This is the kind of dialogue that should be happening in every community of color in America," Peoples told more than 60 attendees Friday during the event, which was sponsored by Group Ministries Inc.

The forum, titled "Disproportionate Impact! Women of Color and AIDS" addressed HIV/AIDS cases, specifically among women of color.

According to the state Health Department, 31.8 percent of people living with HIV and AIDs in the eight counties of Western New York in 2005 were women. In these same counties, African-Americans and Hispanics accounted for 57.4 percent of all documented HIV and AIDS cases.

"The face of AIDS has changed very rapidly," said Peoples. "The numbers of black and Latino women affected are rising quickly. But the disease is totally, 100 percent preventable. You don't have to get it, and you don't have to die from it."

During the forum, three workshops focused on disease prevention strategies, cultural competency and advocacy.

The SISTA strategy, a specific prevention intervention program designed by the Center of Disease Control, was introduced in the disease prevention workshop led by Monica Brown, manager of the HIV Services Department at the American Red Cross Buffalo Chapter.

SISTA equips African-American women with confidence to effectively communicate with their partner.

"We emphasize the idea of creating a sense of who you are and being proud of it," said SISTA facilitator Johnniece Emmons. "Women need to have assertiveness skills to be able to say what they feel and be comfortable enough to have a conversation about it."

The cultural competency workshop discussed cultural-based counseling strategies and the various skills required to work efficiently in diverse communities.

Belle Walls Montree, vice president of behavioral health services at Child & Family Services of Erie County, encouraged participants to deepen their understanding of their own social and cultural identities so that they can better avoid stereotyping others.

"We need to become more sensitive to people of all ethnic groups," said Montree. "We really don't know a lot about other cultures."

Advocacy strategies and lobbying techniques for nonprofit organizations were provided by Vincent Marrone, a lobbyist for Public Strategies LLC.

Group Ministries Inc. is part of the Communities of Color Coalition of New York State, which is expanding statewide to raise awareness and advocate for more resources to provide better AIDS/HIV services to clients.


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