REPORTS

Reclaiming Our Future

When we think of the multiple challenges African American youth face, many of our minds rightly turn to mass incarceration, failing public school systems and an economy without living wage jobs. Clearly, our community's young people are disproportionately affected by these and other social ills. Together, they dim our children's horizons, limit their opportunities and, broadly, make their pursuit of happy, healthy lives more difficult –- and in some cases impossibly daunting.

Few of these challenges are new; they have hamstrung young African Americans from our nation's inception. But in recent decades we have seen a new threat, itself a byproduct of the broader crisis our youth confront: the raging AIDS epidemic among Black young people.

In the Institute's latest report, Reclaiming Our Future: The State of AIDS among Black Youth, University of Chicago political science professor Dr. Cathy J. Cohen and her co-authors explain how the collected social ills bearing down upon African American youth have added up to make them the new face of AIDS in America.

Today, people under the age of 25 account for half of all new HIV infections each year. Within that group, African Americans account for 56 percent of new infections. No matter what age group one focuses in on, Blacks are most impacted:

  • African Americans account for 66 percent of new HIV infections among those 13 to19 year olds.
  • Among 20 to 24 year olds, it's only slightly better, with Blacks accounting for 53 percent of those infected.
  • In 2002, 71 percent of all new HIV diagnoses reported in children under the age of 13 were found among African Americans.

We must begin to recognize HIV/AIDS as one of the leading challenges to the survival of young African Americans. But ultimately, this epidemic cannot be separated from the countless others our youth face every day. In Reclaiming Our Future, Dr. Cohen and her co-authors -- Alexandra Bell and Mosi Ifatunji -- describe some of the key ways in which HIV intersects with the larger social challenges Black youth navigate. They dissect how public policymakers and the industries that shape popular culture have contributed to the problem, and they explore answers for undoing it.

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