Letter Urges Student Action in AIDS Crisis

While Valentine’s Day is a lighthearted occasion for many, this year, one Harvard organization is using the holiday’s connotations to impress a much more somber message upon their peers.

Yesterday, the Unite Against AIDS organization called upon black students to recognize the urgency and magnitude of the AIDS crisis in the global black community in a letter posted on their website.

“As Americans celebrate romantic love, over 6300 Africans will die due to lack of love,” the letter said. “AIDS is the problem of our generation.”

The release on Valentine’s Day was no coincidence, said former Black Men’s Forum (BMF) President Brandon M. Terry ’05, who called for the letter to be written.

The group wanted to “capitalize on the self-reflection that goes on,” Terry said. “What are the obligations of love? To live up to a higher calling of love when millions of people are in danger.”

Oludamini D. Ogunnaike ’06, who co-wrote the letter with Kaya N. Williams ’06, also said the holiday release was strategic.

“There’s a theme of love [in our letter], which we thought would be appropriate,” Ogunnaike said. “We need more brotherly and sisterly love [so that] romantic love will become less dangerous.”

The emphasis of the letter is to engage young black people, which Williams called “the most apathetic group,” in an issue that affects them particularly, she said.

“Obviously I hope non-blacks support us,” Ogunnaike said, adding that there is a “great psychological importance” involved “when you as a black person see other black people” taking action.

Terry noted that blacks have historically been underrepresented in AIDS action, but that black students have a particular ability to be effective in combating the problem.

“People are desensitized to African death,” he said. The AIDS-prevention initiative intends to “put black people back into the human category.”

In addition to a general call for awareness and action, the letter promotes the Apr. 23 Unite Against AIDS Summit at Harvard, which is a collaborative effort of several student groups and corporate organizations, including the BMF, Harvard African Students Assocaition (HASA), Harvard AIDS Coalition, Harvard Concert Commission, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Global Fund.

According to the letter, the summit aims to signify a declaration that “our generation will not be a passive observer” and to mark the beginning of a global AIDS prevention effort.

The group is currently working on updating the website to add an “interactive map,” which users can employ to find AIDS resources around the world.

Group leaders also hope that the involvement of members of HASA and several international attendees will bring the group’s ideas and initiatives to their respective countries, Ogunnaike said.