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Recapping Unity in Action - The Role of the Atlanta Faith Community in HIV Prevention, & Health Equity

SisterLove Hosts an Atlanta Faith Summit in Historic West End

Connecting Faith, Advocacy, and Community

On May 17th and 18th, we hosted the two-day Unity in Action: Faith Advocacy Summit at our historic Motherhouse in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood and Hillside International Truth Center.

“It was amazing to be in that space where sexual health was not stigmatized, but celebrated…and folks knowing their status was more important than some of the traditional concerns within faith based communities around issues of sex”. -Alison Poole-White, SisterLove’s Director of Programs

This event brought together church leaders, their congregants, community organizations, social justice advocates, public health professionals, and commercial business to address critical issues such as HIV, mental health, health equity disparities, and reproductive justice.

Our summit aimed to destigmatize HIV and promote health equity through community engagement as well as open conversations about challenging topics that are seriously affecting communities of color

Panel Discussion with Cast of Emmy-Nominated Film "Unexpected"

Our summit kicked off with an exclusive screening of the Emmy-nominated documentary "Unexpected."

The cast of Unexpected, HIV documentary by Sheryl Lee Ralph
The cast of Unexpected joined for a discussion

Produced by “Abbott Elementary” Emmy winner Sheryl Lee Ralph and directed by Zeberiah Newman, “Unexpected” follows activists and SisterLove's Leading Women's Society members Ciarra “CiCi” Covin and Masonia Traylor as they create an underground network to help and

support women with HIV in the rural South.

The cast of HIV documentary Unexpected: From left: Masonia Taylor, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and CiCi Covin
From left: Masonia Taylor, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and CiCi Covin

SisterLove’s Founder and President, Dazon Dixon Diallo also appears throughout the documentary. SisterLove’s Vice President of Programs and External Affairs, Sybil Miller is credited as a co-producer.

The film premiered at the 2023 Essence Film Festival and has gone on to win the Award of Excellence at both The Accolade Global Film Competition and The Impact Docs Awards, and was a Silver Winner at the Telly Awards.

It also screened at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, DC Black Film Festival, Black Women Film Network, Detroit Black Film Festival, The Women’s Film Festival and Cleveland Film Festival.

The documentary is now Oscar-qualifying and nominated for an Emmy Award.

The film received standing applause from our guests and was followed by an engaging discussion with the cast members around the significance of shared experiences in overcoming HIV-related stigma.

They also emphasized it was important to do the film to help change the narrative that HIV is only a man’s issue. In fact, the rate of Black women living with HIV is 16.7x higher than white women.

Bridging Gaps in Health Equity

On Saturday, May 18, part two of the Faith and Advocacy Summit took place with panel discussions held in the beautiful King Chapel at Hillside International Truth Center.

The first panel discussion, titled "Transformable Thinking: Intersecting Faith Spaces with Community Partnerships to Champion Health Equity, HIV Prevention, and Address Stigma," was moderated by Elder Will Francis, Apostolic Leader of Lives and Souls Global in Atlanta, GA.

Panelists included Bishop Dr. Monte E. Norwood, pastor Bible Way Ministries, Chelsealya "Cookie" Payne of PAYNE & Glory, Leisha McKinley-Beach, founder and CEO of The Black Public Health Academy, Abraham Johnson of Gilead Sciences, and Tia Francis of It's Possible, Inc.

The discussion focused on the crucial role of faith communities in addressing HIV and other health disparities.

Dázon emphasized the interconnected nature of various health and social oppressions, "There are a multitude of oppressions that can happen. And there are people who walk with certain identities for whom not only are they experiencing a number of those oppressions, but those oppressions are also interconnected and interrelated. Which include mental health, and HIV and sexual reproductive health care."

Others spoke about the disparities they witness and experience in their professional roles as it relates to HIV.

All agreed that churches have the power to transform HIV stigma and change lives for the betterment of the community.

Addressing Broader Issues in Social Justice and Health

After a lunch break provided by Earl of Sandwich, the second panel discussion, "Social Justice, Bridging Gaps, and Next Steps: Answering the Call to Find Solutions that Will End the HIV Epidemic and Promote Total Wellness in Our Community," resumed.

This panel focused on insights and solutions.

“There’s a difference between Christ-like action and those who just quote bible scriptures that could be twisted and used out of context to stop their involvement.” -Bishop Dr. Monte E. Norwood

Abraham Johnson of Gilead Sciences, along with returning panelists Bishop Dr. Monte E. Norwood, pastor of Bibleway Ministries, and Leisha McKinley-Beach discussed the intersectionality of health issues and the importance of holistic approaches to community wellness.

Each panelists engaged the audience directly in an open conversation about what solutions can be created and implemented as a community, particularly around the role that faith leaders can play in providing support and access to resources like HIV testing and mental health counseling.

Bishop Norwood led the charge that not taking action to become more knowledgeable on how to help stamp out HIV is not Chrisitian-like and can be viewed as not caring.

People of faith have an obligation and moral responsibility to care about HIV and the people it affects.

There is no room for not caring, complacency, or to sit on the sidelines on this or any other life threatening public health issue.

What is Intersectionality and Why it Matters

The panelists discussed the concept of intersectionality, highlighting how different forms of oppression intersect in individuals' lives.

"There are a multitude of oppressions that can happen....people who walk with certain identities are experiencing a number of those oppressions, but those oppressions are also interconnected and they're interrelated. That includes mental health, includes HIV. It includes sexual reproductive health care." -Dazon Dixon Diallo

They stressed the importance of addressing various aspects of a person's identity and situation to provide effective health and community services.

The panelists shared personal stories and engaged the audience on issues related to faith, sexual and gender identity, and the impact of traditional attitudes.

The panelists highlighted community health events promoting health and HIV testing, showcasing the impact of our collaborative efforts. The panel also discussed how Health Ministries can be an absolute ally for those suffering in silence living with HIV by linking individuals with organizations like SisterLove and also become knowledgeable of how their church ministries can better engage with their community about HIV.

Churches need to assure congregants that HIV is not a death sentence nor something to be ashamed of and provide evidence based information that will directly diminish myths and stigma.

View the Event Program

Panelists and attendees all agreed that Health Ministries that hold HIV screening events with their church leaders visibly involved is an effective way to start the conversation in faith spaces.

Action speaks louder than words in this case.

Moving Forward with Unity

The Unity in Action: Faith Advocacy Summit was a powerful demonstration of the strength and resilience of community.

By embracing authenticity and inclusivity, and centering personal testimony and the lived experience of those in our community. We proved that the best way to navigate the intersectional challenges our communities face is through centering compassion, empathy, and a sense of common ground.

We were invigorated and inspired by the camaraderie and willingness of our diverse community members to join hands and continue the fight against HIV stigma, intersectional oppression, and cultural biases that serve as barriers to access sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice for all.

As we move forward, our Faith Summit is a tangible reminder of the importance of collective action and the vital role faith communities play in advocating for social justice and health for all.

Those in faith spaces have a unique advantage to address HIV for it is their faith that compels them to tackle hard issues that are at the center of the human conditions and be able to address these conditions with love, compassion, acceptance, humility, dignity, and without judgment. We will continue to work with our faith partners to all the reasons noted.

If you didn’t get the chance to attend, RSVP now for our next Faith Summit in August in commemoration of National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

129 views4 comments


Cline Dwayne
Cline Dwayne
a day ago

The Faith Summit beautifully highlights how faith communities leverage their unique position to champion social justice and health initiatives, particularly in the fight against HIV, by approaching these challenges with unwavering love, compassion, and dignity, fostering a supportive and non-judgmental environment for all. Follow to read more details: hill climb racing


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