Color Blinded

A federal grant earmarked for "African-Americans" with AIDS has care providers in Broward debating linguistics rather than logistics.

But as usual with money from Washington, the Ryan White funding comes with strings attached. Recipient counties are required, for instance, to gather statistics, conduct surveys, determine unmet needs, demonstrate plans for meeting those needs, and perform a host of other tasks.

This year, for the first time ever, one of those strings has to do with race. "The grantee must submit, within 30 days of the start date [March 1, 1999] of the Grant award, a quantified plan and timeline to bring the planning council representation of the African-American community to a level that reflects their representation in the local AIDS epidemic for the most recent two years," stated the December 10 award letter for Ryan White funding.

Right now the planning council is 57 percent white, 32 percent black, and 11 percent Hispanic, says Terri Sudden, the council's staff coordinator. Relatively quickly, those numbers have to be reversed; otherwise the funding stops. Sudden says the council has identified several black candidates it's trying to recruit to reach its approved racial makeup. Even so, she says, "I might need one more white member to resign."

Kingdom sees the reshuffling as a necessary and overdue step. "I'm not saying anything bad about the gay white males," he says. "They did a wonderful job educating themselves at a time when nobody else cared and nobody else understood their community. But the flip side of that is, gay white males don't necessarily understand how to connect with the black community. What they've been doing has not been working -- just look at the numbers."

If Kingdom had his way, a greater share of the Ryan White funding would go to organizations with direct access to and a natural affinity for the black community. "They don't know how to reach the black community, because they don't understand the black community," he says of the current council.

Others, however, see nothing but problems if HIV and AIDS activists begin to divide the problem in terms of race. "Here in South Florida, especially, we're not just black and white," says Carey Frazier, the chair of the multicultural committee of the planning council. "We're shades of cafe au lait -- we're every shade."

Georgia Foster agrees. "You have to think about the good of the people who have the virus," she says. "If we sit here all day arguing about piddling pennies, we're not going to help anybody. We have to take the egos away and stop being divisive. If you have AIDS, you have AIDS."

Contact Paul Belden at his e-mail address:

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