Dr. Sillemon has worked in the social services/HIV/AIDS arena in San Joaquin, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties for the past 13 years. Recently coordinated and hosted an extremely successful "Speak Up, Speak Out Against Stigma" educational forum for the African American Community in Oakland, California. Tony is a co chair of the Oakland TGA Collaborative community Planning Council (CCPC). He provides personal counseling sessions and peer education tutelage for minority youth on the topics of gangs and violence, and on becoming nurturing fathers. As an added personal endeavor, Dr. Sillemon also conducts successful support groups for both heterosexual and gay (MSM) identified men residing in Alameda County. Among his many community awards, Tony has been acknowledged as a past California "Father of the Year"; a recipient of the "African American Achievement Award"; the Dr. Robert C. Scott Achievement Award (for excellence in the field of HIV/AIDS services in the African American Community); the Alameda County "World AIDS Day Treatment and Care Award"; and the "NAESM achievement award" for his contribution in black MSM community. Tony continually demonstrates his compassion and dedication for exemplary patient care as a motivated, passionate, and highly respected member of the Alameda County professional health care providers. Aside from his many civic and professional accolades, Dr. Sillemon has worked diligently, over the years, to promote and sustain public awareness and education about the integration of qualitative mental health care practices within the Northern California standards of health care. In 2006, Tony completed studies at the University of Southern California (USC), where he obtained his Doctorate in Psychology. His California Board of Psychology licensing followed immediately thereafter.
We are now 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic and much more still needs to be done to find a cure and eradicate this disease. It has been a long road getting politicians, healthcare providers and stakeholders to address the importance of HIV in the African American community.
This week at the 2012 International AIDS Conference (IAC) I’ve learned so much about HIV/AID’s treatment, prevention and linkage to care. So I ask myself what’s next. The next step is to mobilize our local community and network nationally and globally to continue to address the disparities in the African American community. There is a need f to have black people involved in HIV research trials to ensure that vaccines will work for black people. Moreover, I will do my part by going back to my home town of Oakland; California and focus on strengthen black communities about HIV awareness and prevention. I will do this by building capacity with Black agencies, AIDS Service Organizations (ASO’s) and Community Base Organizations (CBO’s) and churches.
High rates of unemployment in the black community, lack of access to adequate health care all impact the prevalence of HIV in our community. However, the biggest hurdle is going to be addressing stigma, counter acting myths that black people have about medication and pharmaceutical company which will hopefully allow us to move toward a real solutions. It’s easy to sit around a table and talk about ending this epidemic in black communities but we need action. Furthermore, there have to be honest buy in from the whole community and other stakeholders.
Lastly, when mobilizing our community we not only have to address black gay men, but focusing on heterosexual black men, black women and youth which will be important to utilize all the resources necessary to get to a generation free of newly infected HIV/AIDS cases. Furthermore, the use of public advocacy, media campaigns around HIV/AIDS, stigma, homophobia, and violence and how they all are affecting the black community is crucial to win the battle on HIV/AIDS. I hope a community of compassion and love will eliminate or significantly reduce the high rates of HIV, racial and economic inequalities in the black community.
Black youth are portrayed negatively in the media and in American society. They are usually associated with gangs, violence, high school dropouts and a menace to society. However, what I see is future doctors, scientist and lawyers. Black youth are vocal and politically motivated to work toward a better future. Sadly there is one truth and that is our young black youth are at great risk for contracting this disease. This risk increases more when you are a young gay or bisexual youth.
So how do we reduce this epidemic in our black youth population? As a teenager the message I was taught was abstinence. That you should delay sex until I was an adult and married. I can tell you from personal experience that message did not work me. I became a teen father at the age of thirteen. I wish there was other messages taught in school and by society in my youth days. However, we are in a new era where their needs to be comprehensive sex and risk reduction strategies for our young black youth. We all know when you tell a person not to do something without explaining they turn around do it. I was told to abstain from sex, but I did the opposite which made me a child raising a child. I was mentored by counselor who educated after the fact, but quickly learned how to protect myself and the people I loved.
There also needs to be aggressive mobilization. One agency leading this effort is “The Black AIDS Institute”, which focuses on educating black people from around the United States so that they can than go back to their own community and make a change on treatment and prevention of this disease. Lastly, in these efforts of educating our youth we cannot forget to praise and empower our young black youth when they do good things. Our society has to start HIV/AIDS mobilization training and prevention efforts early so that we will protect and preserve our youth for the future.
As we all know, Black gay men are the most impacted by HIV/AIDS. I was listening to Phil Wilson speech today at the International AIDS Conference and I realized why I fight to mobilize the Black community. There are many openly educated, powerful and strong black gay men in the world who are empowering other Black gay men to “stand up and speak out”, for equality. I also had the privileged to meet many African American gay men, some HIV positive and other HIV negative. What I found unique is the common connection and goal. That goal was stopping the acquisition of this virus in our community and work with scientist and other policy makers to come up with a vaccine that will hopefully cure this epidemic. These same genders loving man also expressed that they want to be afforded the same rights as heterosexual men such as family, marriage, and children and to express their love too without embarrassment or apologizing for being who they are.
Another importance tissue about Gay Black men is being afforded the same opportunity for reliable healthcare and not to be judge for being gay. When a black men knows his HIV status he is contributing to society in a positive manner because knowing your status save your life and prevent you from passing the virus to others, making our community safe.
We must unite to stop the stigma of homophobia and AIDS-phobia that is engraved in Black America. One major problem is that AA men whether homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual that doesn’t know their HIV status and this provides an avenue for our community to continue to be the most impacted by this disease. Furthermore, addressing barriers in the Black gay men’s community is crucial for continued survival. These barriers include lack of medical care, high incarceration, unemployment, polysubstance abuse, violence, depression and mental illness. I believe all these issues hinder Black Gay men from getting tested for HIV in the first place. It is important that Black gay men be proud, loud and strong.
When I think about women I think strong, bold, black and confident. There have been many important women in my life that I respect and admire. My mother meant the world to me and was taken from me much too soon by cancer. However, I can still remember the family times we share. The home cooked meals, conversations around the dinner table and bonding in the family room. My mother was a strong black woman who raised fifteen children alone. I have eight brothers and six sisters and I know that was not an easy task raising us. I also think about my ex-wife who is also the mother of my three children. She was older than me, a caretaker and a provider. I thank God for her every day for blessing me with three wonderful children. Furthermore, her strength and dedication as a mother transformed me into the man I am today. Lastly, when I think about woman I think about my bossy sisters who I love so much. They were very instrumental to me showing me how to express my sensitive side
If I was to ask the question how does the HIV/AIDS epidemic affects women in my life. I would have to answer tremendously. Black women are becoming infected with the HIV virus at an alarming rate. As we continue to fight this disease especially in the African American community we cannot forget about ways to address this trend and focus on prevention, treatment and care for this population. The complexity of social, economic, cultural, and biological factors have to be studied and examined. The stigma that these women face is just as great as African American MSM. Many of these women fear stigma more than they fear the HIV infection itself. The stereotypes and labels put on them prevent them from getting tested and treated if they are positive. There are services in our community to help Black women, but culturally our Black women are consumed with being a caregiver that they forget to care for themselves. Strong Black women are the backbone of our society. I always heard that for every strong Black man there is a strong black woman empowering, encouraging them to be there best.
The United States AIDS epidemic continues to grow with the disparities hitting my community the African American Community. AA represents 12-13% of the total population but accounts for almost half of this disease. In Oakland, CA where I live and work this trend is very similar where African American disparity of this disease is overwhelming. What furthermore drives these disparities in AA community is the lack of access to good healthcare, mental illness, poverty, homelessness, polysubstance abuse and violence in my community.
I have personally seen firsthand the devastation this disease takes on my community. I lost my biggest idol and mentor to this disease and that was my older brother who died pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Stigma continues to drive this disease in the African American community. The racism and discrimination not only from black people, but other nationalities as well continues to add fuel to this epidemic. People unfavorable attitudes about sexuality, religious beliefs, behaviors, and policies directed at Black people who perceived to be infected with HIV, whether or not they actually are needs to be addressed. I am an African American man with three kids working in the HIV/AIDS field and I always get questions or comments geared at my sexuality and HIV status. I am hoping that the hostility, stigma, prejudice, and attitudes can be addressed here at the 2012 International AIDS Conference to bring unity and change in my community.
Lastly, I feel the way to start this conversation is that Black people have to be a part of policy change. We must have the same rights as our White counterpart hopefully addressing the racism and discrimination. We also must be a part of the solution not just the problem by getting tested and if positive receiving care and treatment. Furthermore, we must get involved in more HIV vaccine trials and studies so that HIV medication can work well in Black communities. We are a strong people and breaking down the myth and learning the truth will be viable to our existence.