“Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out to say somebody has died because of HIV.”
- Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was many things to many people. For a nation, he was a freedom fighter who fought the oppressive apartheid system in his quest to see his people live with the same dignity and equal footing that was enjoyed only by the ruling minority. His life exemplified the essence of perseverance and an indelible belief that one day all South Africans would be free to chart their own course for the future became. This became a reality during his lifetime.
Mandela’s example lives in each of us. His life journey serves to remind us that we must never surrender in our fight to end HIV/AIDS in our communities. He was our brother in this fight. Through his actions, he stood side by side with us, even though thousands of miles away, to declare that we can all do something, no matter how small, the help bring an end to the AIDS epidemic, no matter where we lived.
His effort to change the course of HIV came at a time when 800 people were dying from AIDS everyday in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, supported HIV/AIDS research for AIDS orphans through the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. His impact in helping to slow the rapid rate of HIV infection was closely monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO). Subsequently the WHO would declare that as a direct result of his efforts to raise HIV/AIDS awareness through sharing the story of his son Makgatho Mandela, who had died from AIDS, there was a 32% decrease in HIV infection from 2005 to 2011. It is believed that his announcement helped to lift the cloak of silence that had surrounded the epidemic.
Today the Watchful Eye celebrates the life of one of this century’s most impactful leaders. Nelson Mandela was many things, to many people, but to us, he was a living, breathing example of what can be accomplished when we are guided by our soul’s compass. We all have a little bit of Nelson Mandela in us. We just have to look around, and take the responsibility to help make a difference in whatever way we can.
WORLD AIDS DAY 2013
Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation
Over the past twelve months the Watchful Eye has continued its efforts to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and promote testing by increasing our leadership and community awareness initiatives. We recognize that to win the battle against HIV/AIDS there is a shared responsibility that has to be burdened by each and every one of us. A responsibility that cannot be blamed on our political, social, or economic status or influence, a responsibility that is as simple as getting tested and knowing one’s HIV status.
Our efforts were driven by the realization that countless individuals continue to be infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. We expanded our goals to reduce the number of HIV infections by partnering with community-based companies like Walgreens to use their facilities and popular locations to provide on the spot HIV testing.
Our experience with Walgreens confirms our belief since opening our doors in 2007. We realized that with diligence and the belief that we will over come this pandemic, the stigma of HIV can be overcame. Our experience in the field has proven that New Yorkers are now, more than ever, no longer ashamed to seek HIV testing and services.
We have witnessed a collective shared responsibility by the many young people who stopped by our New York Avenue office in seek of HIV testing, services and condoms. Through our diverse network, we refer them to community service providers like Project Street Beat, a Planned Parenthood of New York City’s HIV prevention and access-to-care program that serves women, men, and teens who live and work on New York City’s streets. We also took part in the EZDAY Social Adult Center's 1st Health Fair. The event provided residents with workshops and a myriad of testing opportunities in an effort to improve the health and well-being of the community.
We have worked with the Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center to couple HIV testing with other health maladies such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol in an effort to show that HIV/AIDS is no different than these challenges as they can all be treated effectively managed with the appropriate regiments. Similarly, we engaged in a new partnership with Brookdale University Medical Center to highlight the need for increased HIV testing and awareness across the city.
Shared responsibility is a community wide responsibility. During the outdoor launch and ribbon cutting with the Brookdale University Medical Center, we addressed the significance of the red HIV ribbon, which symbolizes solidarity, commitment and compassion in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The ceremony was part of the hospitals new Red Ribbon Revitalization partnership campaign with the Watchful Eye, a community based organization, founded in 2007, with the goal of mobilizing leadership around the epidemic.
As we embark on another year of trying to make a difference through HIV testing and awareness via increased partnerships, we are encouraged by the words of President Barack Obama who stated in this year’s World AIDS Day presidential proclamation, “We will win this battle, but it is not over yet. In memory of the loved ones we have lost and on behalf of our family members, friends, and fellow citizens of the world battling HIV/AIDS, we resolve to carry on the fight and end stigma and discrimination toward people living with this disease. At this pivotal moment, let us work together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
Keeping a Watchful Eye,
Jessica A. Allen
Elected Officials Call for Increased Community Efforts During HIV Banner Unveiling and Ribbon Cutting at Brookdale University Medical Center
New York, NY – In an overwhelming affirmation of the ongoing need to address the severe impact HIV/AIDS continues to have across the city, on Thursday, October 17, elected officials, community leaders, and residents gathered in front of Brookdale University Medical Center in East New York Brooklyn to take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony and unveiling of the first HIV banner to be hung from a public hospital.
The effort, designed to highlight the need for increased HIV testing and awareness across the city, addressed the significance of the red HIV ribbon, which symbolizes solidarity, commitment and compassion in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The ceremony was part of the hospitals new Red Ribbon Revitalization partnership campaign with the Watchful Eye, a community based organization, founded in 2007, with the goal of mobilizing leadership around the epidemic.
Mark E. Toney, president and CEO of Brookdale University Medical Center stated, “We are delighted to be working with the Watchful Eye on this initiative to encourage HIV testing in the community. It speaks to the role Brookdale has played since it first opened its doors in 1921. Our goal is to continue to serve the community well beyond our 100-year anniversary in 2021. HIV is an issue that affects all of us. And we are all committed to doing everything that we can to end this epidemic.”
Statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that in Central Brooklyn, which comprises Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, East New York, and Brownsville, total HIV diagnosis among persons 13 years old and older accounted for 114 per 100,000 persons compared to 50 per 100,000 in other parts of the borough, and 55 per 100,000 in New York City.
Senator John Sampson (D-NY), who was joined by colleagues Assemblyman Nick Perry, Senator Council Member Charles Barron, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Rev. Robert Waterman, and Councilwoman Darlene Mealy pledged his ongoing support to fighting HIV/AIDS across the city.
“I’ve been working with the Watchful Eye for some time now and I’ve learned that there’s something each of us can do to contribute to this fight. Each of us can play a role. I am delighted that Brookdale Hospital continues to respond to the needs of the community through their actions. HIV and AIDS is still a very serious issue in our community. It’s just a matter of making the decision to do something about it.”
HIV diagnoses are 30% higher in the Brooklyn communities of East New York and New Lots than the New York City overall rate. The rate of people living with HIV/AIDS is 25% higher in these communities than the rate in NYC overall.
Assemblyman Walter Mosley, a resident of Brooklyn, summed up the theme of the early morning event when he stated, “HIV is a disease we can conquer, but we need to keep a watchful eye.
I am honored to be reaching out to you today as the new CEO of the Watchful Eye. Over the past four years we have worked diligently to mobilize leadership, community based organizations, and residents to drive home the message that HIV testing and knowing ones status is key to ending the epidemic in our communities. We have come a long way as a direct result of our partnerships and work in the community, but there is so much more to be accomplished as HIV/AIDS among African Americans still remains a critical health issue that continues to be underestimated.
First, let’s be clear! HIV/AIDS was never a disease that targeted one specific group based on sexual orientation or place of birth! HIV/AIDS affects all of us. Our health care history, or lack thereof, here in America provided us with a fore warning of what was to come. At a time when the media was pointing fingers to one demographic or another, our indigenous leaders were working diligently to develop culturally sensitive courses of action to combat the epidemic. History has taught us that no matter what the epidemic was, or what the popular voices seemed to be saying at the time, soon it was going to darken our doorsteps, and not just coming to visit, but to stay for a while.
It troubles me that I can’t remember a time when HIV/AIDS wasn’t a part of the landscape of our community’s health care conversation. My only comfort as I engage in this daily battle is the knowledge that I follow in the footsteps of the heroes and she-roes who have come before me and have given their all, leaving no regrets on the battle field. I am mindful of the long and significant history in this fight, and the fact that I stand on the shoulders of giants and visionaries such as my predecessor Divinah “Dee” Bailey, Founder and Former CEO of the Watchful Eye.
As I worked alongside Dee we knew that our community’s strength came from within. We believed that we did not have to wait for funding to have a conversation with our neighbors, family, colleagues, or friends about the importance of knowing their HIV status.
In my former role as Director of Community Action Partnerships I understood the value of partnering with existing venues like the UniverSoul Circus to encourage attendees to get tested. By serving as an honorary ringmaster, we were able to encourage thousands of audience members to get tested. I knew an integral part of saving our communities was to meet residents where they were at, so I built a partnership with local health centers such as Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center to implement O.U.T.R.E.A.C.H Brooklyn where we were able to provide dependable medical services to the residents, community based centers, organizations, and colleges throughout Brooklyn.
At the Watchful Eye we believe that every individual had a role to play, a role that could make a difference. As I step into my new role, I just want to thank the visionaries that came before me. Visionaries such as Debra Fraser-Howze, Dr. Pernessa Seele, Phil Wilson, Keith Cylar, Dennis DeLeon, Paul Kawata the Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman, Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, Wendy McClinton of the Black Veterans for Social Justice, Dr. Monica Sweeney, Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, NYS Senators Eric Adams and John L. Sampson, New York City Councilman Al Vann and the New York City Council, Former Congressman Edolphus Towns, students, parents, shop owners, and residents and hundreds of others who have played key roles in staying in our relentless fight against HIV/AIDS in our communities.
Moving forward the task and vision of the Watchful Eye is simple…to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS by continuing to build a community level infrastructure through mobilization and outreach. We will continue to work with our elected officials, faith leaders and community stakeholders to educate everyone on the importance of Getting Tested and Knowing Their Status! We will continue to be dedicated to the revitalization of the Red Ribbon, which symbolizes our commitment to ongoing education and awareness around HIV/AIDS, and we will continue to make sure that HIV/AIDS remains in the forefront of every community’s agenda.
It is my hope that as we move into our fifth year that you will remain steadfast with the Watchful Eye in this fight.
Keeping a Watchful Eye,
Jessica A. Allen
The Watchful Eye Congratulates District Attorney Ken Thompson!