OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The AIDS epidemic began in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1999 that HIV’s impact on the Black community was really recognized when the first National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was created.
Tommy Young-Dennis, outreach coordinator with the Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP), said for many years, Black people were treated like a footnote in conversations about HIV.
"Historically, Black/African Americans have never really been centered when it comes to HIV, despite being disproportionately affected by HIV," Young-Dennis said.
According to the CDC in 2019, Black people make up only 13% of the population but account for 40% of HIV cases.
In Nebraska, Black people made up 25% of diagnosed HIV cases from 2016 to 2020, despite only being 5.2% of the population. Roughly 714 Black people in Nebraska are living with HIV.
There are many reasons for this disparity, according to Young-Dennis: medical distrust, lack of access to healthcare and a lack of representation in messages about testing, prevention, and treatment.
"If you don’t see anyone who looks like you, or if you don’t see anything that’s relatable when it comes to that messaging and that communication, then it kind of feel like ‘eh, it doesn’t affect me so why should I care?’” Young-Dennis said.
The NAP is making an effort to really connect to the community through its messaging and by going where they are needed.
"It starts with the education," Young-Dennis said. "Once you’re able to provide that education, you’re able to build that trust in the community, and then they will access the services.”
NAP wants to break down the stigma and the fear of getting tested, and let the community know HIV is no longer what it was 40 years ago.
"A lot of individuals are taking once-a-day medications and they are thriving with it," Young-Dennis said.