In late summer 2023, SisterLove hosted our second Faith-Based Summit.
Held virtually on National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we brought together leaders from Atlanta’s faith community and those in the community-based organization space to explore how the church can better promote positive dialogue on HIV, confront stigma, and dispel myths.
The Faith-Based Summit was a collaborative effort between non-profit organizations, faith leaders, and community advocates working to address HIV and reproductive justice within the Black community in Georgia. The Summit aimed to bridge religious beliefs with legal and healthcare access, promoting a safe environment of support, understanding, and empowerment.
Despite medical advancements, HIV disproportionately affects the Black population and remains a crisis in states like Georgia. Black persons represent 33% of Georgia's population but accounted for 71% of HIV diagnoses last year, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Alongside HIV, reproductive justice remains a challenge in the Southeast, where religious beliefs often intersect with policies and healthcare access.
The statistics and lived experiences on HIV and sexual and reproductive justice within the Black community in the Southeast underline the urgency of addressing these interconnected issues. The role religion has in these communities presents both challenges and vast opportunities as we strive for equality and social justice.
Both engaging sessions were moderated by Will Settle, SisterLove's Development Consultant who has extensive experience in corporate and community relations. He facilitated a lively dialogue between two distinguished panelists: Dázon Dixon Diallo, the trailblazing Founder and President of SisterLove, Inc., and Elder Will Francis, the Apostolic Leader of Lives and Souls Global in Atlanta, GA.
Learn More About Our Panelists
Dispelling Stigma and Myths
Dázon Dixon Diallo, with her deep-rooted history of advocacy since 1989, represents the inception of the first women’s HIV, Sexual, and Reproductive Justice organization in the southeastern United States.
During the first panel, Dázon acknowledged and centered the history of Faith communities' commitment to changing the conditions of society through movement building, unity, and policy. Dázon went on to clarify that there is a need for leaders to redefine how they do this work to be in line with a human rights approach to bridge faith, social justice, sexual health, and HIV for the betterment of their communities and church members.
Alongside her, Elder Will Francis brought a wealth of insights from his leadership role within Atlanta's faith community.
Together, they explored the pivotal role that faith-based communities can play in fostering open dialogues about HIV, confronting prevalent stigmas, and enlightening congregations with evidence and fact-based knowledge. Elder Will stressed the importance of sharing knowledge in the community among faith leaders. Elder Will further explained within faith communities there is a need to establish safe spaces to eliminate stereotypes about living with HIV.
Providing Support for People who Live With HIV in Atlanta
The second discussion featured panelist Freda Jones, Donna Tate, and Alison Poole White.
Freda, the founder of a private online HIV support network known as LOTUS and one of our distinguished honorees of the HIV-positive support group Leading Women's Society program, discussed the power of sharing one’s testimony and the impact it can have on others' lives- stating that a testimony can literally save people's lives.
Freda echoes fellow panelist Allison's point on the stigma, and misinformation surrounding HIV testing, noting that it stems from the lack of knowledge which can be prevented by education and testing.
Donna Tate, the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Community Unification Initiatives, a community-based organization that educates the community on HIV, highlighted the importance of action within the community and noted that faith leaders have made progress but there is more work to be done.
Donna explained the need to be hopeful and more visible in spaces of religion and advocacy.
Allison Poole White, our Program Director, who manages our three major programs [the Healthy Love Experience (HLE), the Community-Based Research Program (CBRP), and the Policy and Advocacy Program (PAP)] pointed out the importance of churches and community-based organizations working in tandem.
Throughout this discussion, panelists highlighted the vital role the church can play in increasing awareness of HIV prevention.
Allison gave examples of the ways the church can serve as a connection for those seeking care and maintaining the healthcare they need. In addition, the importance of research and sharing personal experiences to combat myths about HIV treatment.
All the panelists pointed out how the church can provide leadership and support for those who are HIV-positive.
Historically, faith leaders have mobilized their community for social justice, especially in rural areas. Using their platform, leaders are able to educate, inform, and empower the most marginalized populations.
Our panelists spoke to this point and urged other faith leaders to have the courage to acknowledge that humans are sexual beings, and having the correct knowledge will allow people to get the information they need to live safe and healthy lives.
SisterLove is looking forward to many more faith-based events in 2024 and is seeking churches and those in the HIV field interested in participating in the intersection of advocacy, sexual and reproductive justice, and religion.
Plans are underway to have an in-person summit in February 2024 during Black History Month. If you or your church leadership would like to learn more, contact Sybil Miller, VP of Programs and External Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the Faith Summit Panel Discussions Now