t-willard-fair_web.jpgSpecial to the South Florida Times

Black males living in Liberty City face the most severe burden of HIV – the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) – in Miami-Dade County.

The Miami neighborhood ranks first in reported HIV/AIDS cases in the county and those most at risk are aged 13 to 29.

T. Willard Fair, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, has an explanation.

“There is a correlation between hopelessness and the AIDS epidemic in our community,” Fair said. “When you bury teammates and classmates, or everyday you see someone your age dying, you rush to do everything right now because you feel there is no future. That’s the cocoon we see our little black boys operating in on a daily basis.”

In an effort to make Miami’s young black men aware of the deadly disease, the Urban League partnered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ HIV/AIDS Education Program to host “Man Up to Fight HIV/AIDS.”

The forum was a part of a national “Act Against AIDS” initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was sponsored locally by The Florida Department of Health and the National Urban League. Abstinence Between Strong Teens International provided panel presenters.

Florida, where 70 percent of those who contract the disease are male, ranks third in the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S., followed by New York and California.

About 590 Miami-Dade male teens from 12 public schools attended the Dec. 15 event, held at the Joseph Caleb Center in Miami, to discuss the crisis.

Participating schools were Booker T. Washington, Miami Carol City, Miami Central, Miami Edison, Miami Jackson, Hialeah Gardens, Miami Norland, North Miami and Miami Northwestern high schools; Parkway Academy Charter School and Brownsville and Madison middle schools.

“This type of education begins with men talking to men,” said Fair, who presided over the males-only event. “We wanted to let the young boys know that there are men who understand what they are going through and are prepared to share their experiences.”

So insistent were the organizers that the forum be restricted to males that a female reporter was asked to leave shortly after it began.

“The collaboration between the Urban League of Greater Miami and Miami-Dade County Public Schools serves as an excellent example of how the school system and the community can work together to advance societal issues and encourage social and healthy skills development in our youth,” Jacquelyn White, a school district supervisor, said.

According to 2009 data collected by the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of HIV and AIDS, black males in Miami-Dade County comprise 34 percent of reported HIV cases.

The rate of AIDS cases among black males is 153.4 per 100,000 and is three times higher than among white males. The HIV rate is 182.8 per 100,000, twice that of white males.

“We are seeing the by-product of those young men who, years ago, we saw on Miami’s 15th Avenue in the drug scene. They are coming back out,” Fair said. “In jail, there is a lot of sexual activity and no women. Those men are released, especially in our community, and never give any impression that they have had any type of sexual relationship with another man. Black women are being abused and infected because the men are not being honest.”

Broward and Palm Beach Counties also have high infection numbers, ranking second and third, respectively, to Miami-Dade County in reported cases, in the state.

According to the 2009 state health statistics, black males in Broward County comprise 37 percent of HIV cases. The rate of HIV/AIDS cases among black males is twice that of whites.

Twenty-two percent of reported male HIV cases in Broward involve those aged 13-29.

Kehsa Davis, 38, of Lauderhill, found the statistics alarming. Her 13-year-old son is preparing to enter high school.

“We need to talk to and educate our sons about this crisis so they can live and be healthy. We must have higher expectations for them and their lives,” she said.

HIV cases among black males in Palm Beach County are reported at 57 percent or 162.7 per population of 100,000 — seven times higher than for white males, according to the state data. The AIDS case rate of 133.9 per 100,000 is eight times higher than that of white males.

“This information is necessary for our young men and may save their lives,” said Alonzo Henley, who accompanied 28 boys, ages 11-13, from Brownsville Middle School to the forum. “The statistics are real. And, with it, as they become men, they will know how to respect themselves and young women.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@Bellsouth.net.

Photo: T. Willard Fair