Today is World AIDS Day and since 1981, over 25 million people worldwide have died of AIDS and an estimated 33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS. At one point the South Bronx was quoted in a 1989 New York Times article as having, "one of the highest AIDS infection rates ''in the country, if not the world...". HIV infection rates are still higher in the Bronx and even higher is the rate of people who find out only when they have full blown AIDS. Numerous campaigns have been enacted by the government to spread awareness and get people tested. In fact, the Bronx is now leading an ambitious effort to have every resident between the ages of 18 and 64 to get tested and is showing the world how to do it.
Although there are many types of services for individual who are HIV positive up until March of 2009 there was no official support group for people who are affected by HIV whether through infection, family and friends who are positive or are just affected overall by this affliction. Latino Sons of the Red Ribbon fills this need in The Bronx.
Back in January of this year, Maxxavier Santiago, a good friend of mine who is openly HIV+, approached me with the idea of starting such a group because he realized that it seems that in order to get good service or support one always had to travel to Manhattan. The discussion went on for a few weeks and then in March, Latino Sons was born through the generosity of Bronx Community Pride Center and director Lisa Winters who provided the group with a meeting space. Every Friday from 7:00PM - 9:00PM Bronx residents (and anyone for that matter) now have a safe place to go to and meet other like-minded individuals.
Every week there is a different topic for members to explore and discuss such things as as dating as an HIV+ individual, disclosure, family life...the list goes on. Everyone has the option to either participate in the discussion or not. There is never any pressure for anyone to do something that they do not want to do. Latino Sons is not only about weekly meetings but also doing things together as a brotherhood. Throughout the year the group has volunteered at various events including a testing drive during the Puerto Rican Day Parade, pot luck dinners, and Bronx Pride.
Members have provided a lot of positive feedback and many are glad to have a place they feel comfortable sharing their concerns. Friendships have been forged in the midst of it all where members have even said they no longer feel so alone in the battle against HIV/AIDS. No one should ever feel alone in this battle...especially now that they have a place to call home.
If you would like more information on Latino Sons of the Red Ribbon, please feel free to contact the group at LatinoSons@yahoo.com. All information is held confidentially as anonymity is of highest importance.
Let us not forget those who perished from this scourge who left a huge void in the South Bronx communities.