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It doesn't stop with Magic.

There is no doubt that AIDS threatens our community. Even though we account for only 12% of the U.S. population, nearly 29% of currently diagnosed U.S. AIDS cases--more than 56,000 men and women--are black.

Yes, AIDS still largely affects gay and bisexual men and intraveneous drug users, but former Los Angeles Laker Earvin "Magic" Johnson's revelation of being HIV positive last November showed that no one--straight or gay--is immune. In fact, AIDS is growing faster among black women and children than any other group in the nation.

Yet, the black community has taken years to recognize AIDS' reality and its impact. Even our vital network of religious, business and civil rights organizations has been mostly inactive on the issue. Why? The community lived in a state of denial and took action only as the number of infected and dead spiked up.

The figures stun. More than 1.5 million Americans may have been infected with the AIDS virus; AIDS cost the United States more than $50 billion in 1991; more Americans have died from AIDS than during the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined; and 68% of businesses have no HIV/AIDS policy.

The political response has been late and light, as well. For years, AIDS activists and their congressional allies have decried slow federal reaction. In fiscal 1981, the government spent only $200,000 on AIDS programs. A year later, that figure had grown to nearly $6 million, and 10 years later, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion. In fiscal 1992, that amount is expected to provide about $2 billion for all AIDS programs, bringing total AIDS spending for the decade to nearly $9 billion. Critics compare that to the $200 billion Pentagon annual budget and call it minuscule.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), such as Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), contend that so little previous spending forces government to play catch-up now. He adds, speaking more from faith than from research, "had we put some substantial resources to bear at the time, we may have been able to ward off this tremendous epidemic."

Destroying Our Communities

However with any politically charged, high-stakes issue, the question is not only where do the funds come from, but also to whom do they go?

Since 1991, only Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and other CBC members have been working with AIDS activists to try to reverse proposed budget cuts for AIDS groups educating minority communities.

Waters understands the need. Last year, African-American AIDS cases in her Los Angeles district rose 28%. Nationwide, she says, "the AIDS virus is devastating our inner cities. It is literally destroying African-American and Latino communities."

No Time-outs

At press time, there were no major AIDS legislative packages brewing in Congress. The last AIDS-related bill to pass, in 1990, was the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act (named for a teen-age hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion). CBC members and AIDS activists are jointly developing legislation for a comprehensive program.

AIDS fighters also say their voice is heard more clearly since "Magic's" announcement. But they caution that the game they are competing in now is more like a marathon, and there are no time-outs.

For further information on AIDS, contact: * National AIDS Clearinghouse, Box 6003, Rockville, MD 20849-6003; 800-458-5231 * National Association of People with AIDS, 1413 K St. NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20005; 202-898-0414
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Title Annotation:Magic Johnson and AIDS
Author:Dumas, Kitty
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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