Jackson native Yolanda Singleton has cared for patients living with HIV and noted its effects on them for more than 30 years. The registered nurse, who focuses on women’s health, has also seen the progression in HIV health care over time.
In 2018, AIDSVu reported that more than 9,000 people in Mississippi are living with HIV, 69.6% of them men and 30.4% women.
“(HIV) is no longer a death sentence,” Singleton told the Mississippi Free Press. “A lot of times people think that if I contract HIV that just means I’m going to die in six months. People now can live healthy productive lives with a positive HIV status with proper health care.”
Reaching a Captive Audience
The nurse also owns Xperience Jxn Entertainment, an event company that started out of her need to put on exciting events in the capital city after hearing complaints about too little to do in Jackson.
“They can spend Jackson money in Jackson, and then we can also attract people from other cities to bring money to Jackson, spend money and leave money here in Jackson,” Singleton said. She also wants the money they spend to help people living with HIV.
Singleton talked to the Mississippi Free Press a week before the Old School Hip Hop Reunion, an event she organized with the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition (BLACC) working with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to sponsor the event. The hip-hop concert, which was slated for Aug. 28, 2021, but moved to January 2022, is an opportunity to educate the community about HIV/AIDS awareness.
The event’s original timing couldn’t have been any more perfect following the debacle with rapper Da Baby, who received backlash for negative comments about the LGBTQ+ community and comments stigmatizing HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami, Fla., in July.
“We have a captive audience, and we’ll have an opportunity to talk about HIV, how it impacts our community, and bring awareness to it,” Singleton explained. “One thing about HIV and AIDS is it affects one in nine people. And what I mean when I say that is one out of every nine people are either infected with HIV or they know someone who’s infected with HIV.”
Young, Black Men at Highest Risk
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is a three-decade-old global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing cutting-edge medical care and advocacy regardless of a person’s ability to pay, AIDS Healthcare Foundation National Director W. Imara Canady told the Mississippi Free Press.
“If someone tests positive for HIV, we get them linked to their first doctor’s appointment in no more than three business days. We have over 1.5 million individuals in care, many who don’t have the ability to afford the lifesaving care that they need and deserve,” he said during an Aug. 23 Zoom interview.
Sharon Brown, an advocate for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation who was also on the call, started working for the organization in 2014, a year after a clinic opened in Jackson. As an advocate, she goes out into the community and hosts forums to educate the community on HIV, STDs and the importance of getting HIV tests done on a regular basis, Brown explained.
“In 2018, Mississippi ranked in the top 10 within the United States with African American males ages 18 to 25 being the highest demographic sector for contracting HIV and African American women being the next highest group,” she stated on the call.
‘Peel Back The Layers’
On Aug. 24, seven days after MFP’s interview with Yolanda Singleton, she announced on Facebook that the Old School Hip Hop Reunion was postponed to Jan. 15, 2022. The reason? The delta variant.
In July, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported more than 400 new COVID-19 cases on July 7, the most for one day since March 13 of this year. Since then, cases have continued to surge to the point that the state’s hospitals are filled to the brim, with UMMC having to convert a garage into a field hospital, with other facilities across the state following suit.
Students across the state have had to quarantine following the start of the school year. And an eighth grader lost her battle with covid-19 on the heels of Gov. Tate Reeves minimizing child cases. Mississippi learned that an infant had died from COVID-19 as well as multiple pregnant women, and Dr. Thomas Dobbs said this week he had identified 72 fetal deaths, or “stillbirths,” associated with COVID-19-infected pregnant women, all unvaccinated.
Canady said he, Singleton, and the rest of his team had many in-depth conversations regarding the postponement of the concert as they were concerned about the health and safety of concertgoers given the rise in COVID cases across the state.
“One message that we want to say to folks is not only do we want you to ensure that you get tested for HIV, because we’re also seeing an increase in new HIV diagnosis happening throughout COVID, but we seriously want folks to go to wherever they can to get their COVID vaccinations,” Canady said.
The concert was pushed to the Martin Lurther King Jr. holiday weekend in January, coinciding with the event’s #StandAgainstHate campaign.
“We gotta stop. We know love conquers all,” Singleton said during the phone interview. “We really need to take a stand against hate and come together, be united and help our community.”
Eliminating the Stigma
Despite the concert’s postponement, Canady said there is still plenty of work to be done in Black and Brown communities around education, awareness and eliminating the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
The incident with Da Baby is an example of a young Black male who grew up in an environment where some of his statements are what many people are feeling and haven’t shared, Canady expressed. He does not condone his statements, but sees this an opportunity to educate the young man.
“I think we’ve got to peel back the layers, take out his public status and recognize that this is a young brother that also needs to be educated and aware of what’s happening in our community and how he can use his platform in a positive way to make a difference and educate the many people that follow him, particularly these young people,” he said.
Following the incident, the rapper doubled down on his statements, then apologized on social media before deleting his apology. On Aug. 31, it was reported that he met with nine HIV awareness organizations.
As for Yolanda Singleton, she is challenging people to get tested every six months, if not yearly, for HIV/AIDS.
“It needs to become a household conversation doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, gay, straight, Black, white, short, tall, rich poor. It doesn’t matter. You need to go get tested,” she said.
The Old School Hip Hop Reunion will take place on Jan.15, 2021, at the Mississippi Coliseum at 7:30 pm. Tickets for the event are available at the Mississippi Coliseum box office, Ticketmaster, or the Xperience Jxn hotline at 678-322-8098 . To learn more about the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, visit https://hivcare.org/ and for testing, visit www.freeHIVtest.net. The foundation’s clinic is on 766 Lakeland Drive and it is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.