(The Root) — It’s been more than 30 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. Yet despite decades of awareness campaigns about prevention and the facts of transmission, the national epidemic persists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50,000 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year, and an estimated 1.1 million Americans are now living with HIV.
CDC cites two insidious obstacles in the fight against HIV: stigma, which stops people from seeking testing and treatment; and complacency, which keeps people from truly understanding the magnitude of the HIV crisis (research shows that the U.S. epidemic is far less visible today than in the past).
In a new effort to combat stigma and complacency, on Monday CDC launched Let’s Stop HIV Together, a campaign that gives voice to people living with HIV and encourages people to get informed, get tested and get involved by sharing their own stories.
Through online and print ads, TV and radio PSAs, billboards and social media, Let’s Stop HIV Together features HIV-positive people from all walks of life alongside their family members and friends. Rolling out a week before the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., the campaign highlights both everyday people and public figures, such as longtime HIV/AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent, who appears with her friend, actress Jurnee Smollett; and Jamar Rogers from NBC’s singing competition The Voice, appearing with his mother, Danielle.
The Root caught up with Jamar Rogers, 30, about his diagnosis story and why he decided to “stop chasing fame just for the sake of being famous” and reveal his HIV-positive status on national television.
The Root: What do you think it will take to really chip away at the stigma surrounding HIV?
Jamar Rogers: It will take the voices of people who are involved in sports, the entertainment industry and politicians — we need to see more visible HIV-positive people. It can’t be something that we just whisper about anymore. I think stigma is perpetrated because there’s a lot of ignorance. It takes people willing to get involved in things like this campaign to let others know, “Hey, we’re here, and we’re just like you.”
The best thing that I can do is to make really great music. If I’m on MTV and getting interviewed by all these outlets, people can see that I’m not decrepit and I don’t have leprosy. Then I think people’s perceptions will start to change.
TR: Did it take some motivation to get you to this point? Were you ambivalent about revealing your HIV status on The Voice?