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Preaching AIDS education

For the past four years, the Rev. Ronald Weatherford has traveled across the country to educate others about AIDS. Weatherford, author of Somebody’s Knocking at your Door: AIDS and the African-American Church, has lectured at a number of universities and churches across the nation.

Inspired by personal experiences, Weatherford stopped at USF last night at the Phyllis P. Marshall Center for a lecture that consisted of five conspiracy theories that have primarily affected the health of members of the black community during the past fifty years.

He named medical experimentation as the first conspiracy. He referred to a case where a black woman’s cells were used for medical experimentation after she was pronounced dead. The problem was that the hospital used her cells to find the cure for polio without her family’s permission. To this date, Weatherford said, the family of this woman has not been compensated for the progress that her cells have brought to the medical community. He also mentioned that there is an existing law that permits the government to give soldiers in the U.S. Army experimental drugs. Weatherford said, soldiers are used as guinea pigs once they sign their contracts. He noted that the majority of the soldiers in the armed forces are minorities.

The most controversial theory was the silence conspiracy among the various religious groups in the community. Weatherford said that even though there were a lot of people dying of AIDS in the 1980s, there were not many people talking about it or addressing the issue.

“As we entered the third decade, the AIDS epidemic has been affecting the human race. We are starting to talk about it,” said Weatherford. “And for churches and other organizations, such as the NAACP, to make an effort to try to reach their community speaks volumes of the progress, but we are still a long way from solving the problem that AIDS represents in our society today.”

Juan Luque, a public health and anthropology graduate student, said AIDS is an important topic to discuss, especially during awareness week.

“I thought he was going to talk more about the church,” Luque said. “However, he talked more about the conspiracy theories in the medical establishment and the negative effects of policies of the U.S. government … and how that has negatively affected the minority population in the United States.”

Overall, Luque said Weatherford’s comments on the topic were very enlightening. He also thought the audience responded well to his message of compassion and prevention toward the eradication of AIDS.

Weatherford believes education is the key, although as a representative of a church, the first thing he preaches is abstinence. He also believes that preaching about abstinence alone is not enough because some people, especially some young people, are going to have sex regardless. Overall, he said he tries to educate all people to take care of their bodies regardless of what they decide to do.

“Every day over 7,000 people get infected with AIDS, and over 20 million children have been affected by the disease in Africa,” he said.