Thirty-four years after its initial discovery in 1983, HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the most pressing issues of our time. Though the U.S. has seen a significant decline in new infections since 2012–and deaths from AIDS globally has decreased by 50 percent since 2005–according to the World Health Organization, 36 million people are still living with AIDS worldwide.
Teen and young adults between of 13 and 24 account for just over one in five HIV diagnoses and over 80 percent of these cases occur in gay or bisexual males–half being African-American. However, organizations such as Johnson & Johnson are revolutionizing preventive methods and working tirelessly to end the global pandemic.
Over the past 25 years, Johnson & Johnson has developed six HIV medicines and most recently announced its investigational efforts behind an HIV vaccine, which aims to prevent HIV from ever being contracted. This, of course, is a major lead way in the elimination of the virus for future generations, setting us up to #MakeHIVHistory.
Johnson & Johnson kicked off its latest Make HIV History campaign at the Global Citizen Festival and has since collected video submissions from people all over the country to break stigmas, debunk common myths and educate the public in an effort to actualize a world that is HIV/AIDS-free. Check out the compilation video below.
Longtime activist Kelly Rowland partnered with J&J to further promote awareness and encourage the public to get informed. EBONY chatted with the R&B starlet about using her platform, living judgment-free and knowing your status.
EBONY: You’ve been an HIV/AIDS activist for some time, so your involvement with Johnson & Johnson’s campaign comes as no surprise. How did you get involved and what first motivated you to become a voice for HIV/AIDS awareness?
Kelly Rowland: I’ve been apart of Johnson & Johnson’s campaign for a while now and when it comes to HIV/AIDS, I lost someone close to me. I actually watched them pass in a course of days. And it just broke my heart. I think that will definitely forever make a lasting impression on me. And when I look at the numbers and I see the numbers in women are higher, especially in the African-American community and in Africa, it really hurts. I remember doing work a while back with another organization and they actually took me on a journey to Africa and in the states, so I was able to see it first hand. That’s why I am so passionate about it because we can’t continue to lose lives! Johnson & Johnson is actually working on a vaccine and it’s so exciting partnering with them. They understand the reality of the virus and the urgency behind ending the epidemic.
You mentioned taking a trip to Africa a few years back and I read you visited Kenya in 2008. Seeing the effects of the virus first hand, I’m sure also made a lasting impression.
I was really humbled. I had the opportunity to meet people who didn’t mind sharing their story with me–from those who lost someone to AIDS to people who contracted the virus and others who wanted to be more knowledgeable to make better decisions. This one young lady who I met, she contracted the virus in her line of work and she wanted to educate other women who were thinking about becoming sex workers. She wanted to share the realities of it and encourage them to seek the numerous opportunities elsewhere. And it’s like, you hear all these different stories and you think, ‘where’s the disconnect?’
It’s like even with thousands affected a lot of people remain ignorant about the virus.
You know what I mean? So when Johnson & Johnson came to me with this opportunity I was like ‘Let’s do it! Let’s get the word out. What can I do to continue to spread the awareness?’ I’d even like to see more commercials.
How do you think we can encourage more people to know their status?
I would tell them you have got to have the most incredible amount of love and respect for yourself above anything. When you are intimate with someone, you don’t know where they’ve been. The virus does not have a face. It doesn’t have a name. It can happen at any time. And I think that it’s important to have enough love and respect for yourself to say ‘you know what? I don’t know you. With all due respect, I don’t know you.’ Just have enough love and respect for yourself to say ‘you need to get tested and if it’s been a while for me, I will too.’ We have to start by making sure it’s not taboo. People don’t talk about it enough and that that’s what I love about Salt-N-Pepa. That’s what I love about TLC. They had condoms on sunglasses! There needs to be a campaign and a movement like that again. That’s why I’m happy to partner with Johnson & Johnson because there were no commercials at all. And they understand how HIV is one of the most pressing public health challenges of our time.
— KELENDRIA ROWLAND (@KELLYROWLAND) September 29, 2017
When talking to someone who may fear those that are infected. What are some encouraging words you would share with them to fight that stigma?
Above anything, we’re all people and we all have feelings and I feel like we’re all connected with God. And as far as I’m concerned, whoever is sitting next to me, that’s supposed to be my brother, my sister. I’m supposed to talk to them. I’m supposed to hold their hand and I’m supposed to help them through it. And I truly mean that. So I feel we have to stop the judgment. It’s enough judgment going on the world. And you know, as you’re pointing the finger at someone else there are other fingers pointing back at you. So, I feel that it’s really important to just be fair. We’re all God’s children. We all have the right to be respected and treated how we want to be treated.
With the Make HIV History initiative, those who want to participate can send in videos and share their stories. How would you encourage somebody who is HIV positive to live in their truth?
I would encourage them to live their truth unapologetically. I met a young woman in my travels, and the very first time having sex with her boyfriend she contracted the virus. But the way she lived was unlike anyone I had ever met. It was living in her truth. It was talking to other people about it. And that to me, that was a part of the healing. She has also educated others on the virus as well. I just loved her honesty. And I don’t know what it’s like to live with HIV/AIDS. So I can’t say what I would do. But she showed me how someone with HIV/AIDS should live …and that’s with vigor and fullness and also sharing your knowledge. I love that about her and I respect it so much. She’s still here. Still living in her truth and still educating people. That’s what she pledged her life to do. She still has a job and she still wants to educate people …and she still has fun! I loved that about meeting her.
In your years of promoting awareness, especially with certain preventions and treatments that have become available, do you think people have gained a more positive outlook?
I think people have become more positive but I still think that there needs to be more awareness in our faces every day. Just as much as we see any other commercials, it should be an everyday conversation. For a while, it’s been a little too quiet in my opinion. Whether it’s CNN or any news station, they should cover this. We should tell the public to realize 7000 young women contract HIV every week and 30 percent of people living with HIV are undiagnosed. These are all facts and they are right in front of us.
Right in front of us and yet, we don’t know. That’s the scariest part.
And let me tell you, I love my hair. I love my make up. I love a good contour just as much as the next person. But my health means just as much to me. We have to be mentally and physically well. So hashtag that hunny!
Yes. mental and physical health were both equally as important as looking good!
Yes. I mean is it really is.
For more information on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, click here.