"Black America, we have a problem.
HIV/AIDS is running rampant through our communities. Many of us are sick and dying and living in fear and shame, and many of us who aren't afflicted are living in denial, detachment, ignorant, and glass houses. Worse yet, too many people in our communities act as if they are immune to the problem altogether.
`Not me.' `Not in my family!' And that's the problem.
Not in My Family is a weapon of warfare, a tool of empowerment, and a manual on friendship. It includes lessons before dying, lessons on living, lessons on love, and lessons on letting go. It is a collection of colorful stories, hard truths, and differing opinions from people of various lifestyles strung together to teach us not only how to survive, but how to thrive in the face of HIV and AIDS.
It is a dose of truth to our community. And hopefully, the truth will make us free."
-- Excerpted from the Introduction
In the United States, AIDS is increasingly an African-American epidemic, taking a disproportionate toll on the black community where someone is ten times as likely to contract the disease as in a white neighborhood. According to Gil Robertson, many factors have contributed to the explosion of this frightening phenomenon, including "dysfunction, fear, poverty, and lack of information." In fact, he suggests, that upon close inspection, we find the causes to be almost as plentiful as the number of individuals infected.
For this reason, Robertson, decided to edit an anthology of essays by folks touched by the disease, whether they might having a loved one coping with the ailment, be personally infected, on the front lines as an activist, or modestly ministering to patients. In Gil's case, his brother, Jeffrey, was diagnosed as HIV-positive over 20 years ago, and the fallout visited upon the family in the form of "shock, fear and regret" has taken the Robertsons years to overcome.
Fortunately, Gil, a gifted, syndicated journalist whose work has appeared in Essence, Billboard, Black Enterprise and The Los Angeles Times, had the wherewithal to channel his energy positively in terms of tackling a subject which has heretofore been left woefully unaddressed. For AIDS is a scourge likely to ravage the black community exponentially unless it wakes up and faces the fact that Silence = Death.
Thus, Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Family is an urgent, informative, groundbreaking book because it takes AIDS out of the inner-city closet by initiating an intelligent dialogue designed to shake both brothers and sisters out of their complacency and thereby inspire everyone to action. Among the sixty or so contributors to this timely text are entertainers, such as Patti LaBelle, Jasmine Guy, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Mo'Nique and Hill Harper; physicians, including Dr. Donna Christensen, DR. James Benton and Dr. Joycelyn Elders; AIDS activists Phill Wilson and Christopher Cathcart; ministers, like Reverend Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts; best-selling authors, such as Randall Robinson and Omar Tyree; and Congressmen Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Gregory Meeks.
But just as moving as the clarion call sounded by any of these celebs, are the heartfelt stories related by relative unknowns with out any pedigree. For instance, 22 year-old Marvelyn Brown talks about how having AIDS has taught her the true meaning of friendship. Jaded judge Ivory Brown waxes poetic about her late friend and hairdresser who, before he expired, inspired her to overhaul her life by seizing the day.
Dena Gray starts her chapter with an entry from her diary which describes December 20, 1991 as "the worst day of my life," because "I found out today that I'm HIV-positive." Such a powerfully simple, straightforward, and sobering statement can't help but halt a reader in his or her tracks. Shawna Ervin, meanwhile, recounts how she reacted, at the tender age of 11, to learning that her best friend had contracted the illness via a blood transfusion, and how they remained close, in spite of the stigma, till Andrea's demise ten years later.
Filled to overflowing with such almost sacred moments, Not in My Family is a must read, but not merely as a heart-wrenching collection of moving AIDS memoirs. For perhaps more significantly, this seminal work simultaneously serves as the means of kickstarting candid dialogue about an array of pressing, collateral topics, ranging from homophobia to incarceration to brothers on the down low to low self-esteem to the use of condoms to the role of the Church in combating this virtually-invisible genocide quietly claiming African-Americana.