THE BLACK FAITH LEADERS AT THE FOREFRONT OF PUBLIC HEALTH CRISES

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EVERY CONGREGATION ADDRESSING AFRICAN AMERICANS MUST HAVE A HEALTH MINISTRY.

In 1989, Dr. Pernessa Seele, in her new position as an immunologist at Harlem Hospital, started witnessing her patients die of HIV/AIDS with no clergy or family in attendance. Within a New York City community of more than 300 Black churches, Seele believed that clergy should be at the forefront of a response to the disease. She decided to organize an action to shine a light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Black community. In October of that year, Seele, a small woman with a striking presence, flanked by two Black, male pastors donning clerical collars, led a determined cadre of men and women from 50 local churches and mosques in a protest march around Harlem Hospital.

Seele later founded The Balm in Gilead, an internationally renowned, faith-based HIV/AIDS organization. The walk around Harlem Hospital in 1989, evolved first into the Harlem Week of Prayer, and eventually into the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. This annual event calls on faith institutions around the nation to design programs that focus on testing, prevention, and education.

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