A letter to South Florida Gay News from:

Bobby Henry, Publisher of the Westside-Gazette

Hugh G. Beswick, CEO, World AIDS Museum and Educational Center

re: SAVING GRACE: the AIDS crisis in the Black Community

Our meeting was serendipitous. Sheila Pettis, an Urban League Board member and Honorary Board member of the World AIDS Museum (also the wife of Eugene Pettis, first Black president of the Florida Bar Association) suggested that someone from the Henry family, owners of the Westside -Gazette, should meet people from the World AIDS Museum(WAM). Publisher Bobby Henry visited the museum, heard the global story of HIV and agreed to discuss how WAM could reach out more fully to the Black community–a critical need as 51% of new HIV infections in Broward County are among Blacks. Bobby was so moved by the conversations that he divulged a secret–5 or 6 members of his extended family were infected and several had died. He told Beswick that he would be honored to partner with the museum in addressing the challenge of HIV in the Black community.

As happens with new friendship, we quickly identified with each other. Both came from worlds where sex was not comfortably discussed and where the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse were apparent but not addressed. Both had slowly found spiritual solutions to the challenge of HIV. Both discovered that great difficulty can lead to even greater growth. The organizations worked closely to capture an accurate story of HIV in the Black population of Broward County.

That story is told through filmed interviews, family trees which capture the far-reaching effects of HIV , photos of famous and local Blacks infected and affected(provided by well-known San Francisco Photographer Duane Cramer) and local black art and poetry inspired by HIV.The exhibit opens with a party at the Old Dillard Museum on Thursday, April 28 from 6:30-9 PM. The celebration is open to the public and includes a ceremony honoring several members of the Black community who have been “grass-roots” supporters of others touched by this disease.

We believe that this exhibit opens the door to even greater dialogue and would please HIV activist Alex Garner who said that “one of the best ways to fight stigma and empower HIV-positive people is by speaking out openly and honestly about who we are and what we experience”