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NEW YORK — In what organizers call a historic gathering of African-American clergy, dozens of ministers from across the USA will gather here today with medical professionals and lawmakers to map a plan to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the black community.
The two-day meeting, convened by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, will bring together some of the nation's most prominent pastors and representatives of the National Medical Association, Congressional Black Caucus and other organizations.
"Since the movement of the '60s, we haven't seen a gathering of African-American clergy persons like this around a specific issue," says the Rev. Calvin Butts III, senior pastor of Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, who is co-chairing the meeting with Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas. "At that time, it was civil rights and human rights. Now it's a major health crisis which is impacting our community."
Although African-Americans make up only 13.5% of the U.S. population, blacks were 49% of the new HIV diagnoses in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some religious leaders and AIDS activists say that many black churches have not done enough to address the crisis.
"We have a time bomb on our hands," says Debra Fraser-Howze, the commission's president. "I think that the black church will openly admit that they have not done enough in regard to HIV and AIDS, and yes, there are still churches and pastors in the black community and white community who refuse to deal with this issue because of homophobia, because it deals with sex and because it deals with drug use. … This is the time for them to come together to use their collective influence to make a national statement on what needs to happen."