OWN, Lisa Ling explore the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community

Lisa Ling is shedding light on the African American HIV/AIDS epidemic in her new segment for her OWN show “Our America with Lisa Ling.”

The recently aired piece features five black people from all around the U.S. who are HIV positive.  The OWN piece notes that African Americans are 8 times more likely their white peers to be HIV positive. The timing of the broadcast falls in line with National HIV Testing Day.

The featured HIV-positive individuals include a 46-year-old woman, Kimberly, who believes her second husband knowingly infected her with the virus. She allowed microphones as she broke the news to her siblings. It was a tear-jerking moment for her family and OWN viewers.

Then there is 56-year-old Daphne, who works in one of the poorest neighborhoods in DC to help HIV positive women.  Ling asserts that an alarming 3% of DC’s population is HIV/AIDS positive, which puts the city’s HIV/AIDS rate at or even higher than some third world countries. Daphne, a divorced mom, was diagnosed after a brief relationship with a man who was fresh out of prison.

Sonny, now a 41-year-old married father, is a recovering drug addict who contracted HIV while sharing needles with people he knew had the virus. He discovered his status while in prison and for years only received treatment while behind bars (a constant in and out for him) because he refused to take his medication when he was free. But in his new life with his HIV-free wife and kids, he is on a more self-caring path.

Jacory is a 26-year-old gay man who contracted the virus while he was in a committed relationship with a man who did not disclose his status.  It was not until recently that Jacory began taking his medication, even though he was diagnosed in 2010.

Viewers also meet Tom, a 23-year-old man who acquired HIV at birth from his drug-addicted mother. He was adopted by a white family in Rhode Island. Today, thanks to a faithful medication regimen, Tom’s HIV is “undetectable.” He still has the virus, but like Magic Johnson, the disease is at a level that does not significantly impact his bodily functions.

HIV/AIDS awareness has come a long way from the 1980s, when the disease was often referred to as the “gay cancer.”

Today we know more about the virus, how it is acquired and how to prevent it and understand that there is no “look” to being HIV positive. If you were to see on the street any of the people featured in this “Our America with Lisa Ling” episode, you would not know their HIV status unless they told you. The same goes for anyone you date.

To find our your status, visit your local physician or clinic.  In observance of National HIV Testing Day, many locations are offering free testing. Check for listings near you.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.