The National Council of Negro Women, which over its 52-year history has celebrated, reunited, educated and uplifted the black family, now is inviting it to engage in a war. The enemy is AIDS; the weapon is education; the victory is changed, risk-free behavior.
"It may not be a pretty issue, but neither is death," council president Dorothy Height said yesterday. By getting down into the trenches to fight the incurable and fatal virus, "We know we are saving lives," she said.
AIDS -- what it is, what it is doing to blacks and how to fight it with education -- is the most pressing concern on the agenda of the council's 43rd annual convention, being held this week at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Height said yesterday.
Today, the council, which includes 225 community sections and 31 affiliated organizations nationwide, will hold a three-hour workshop on "Mobilizing the Black Family to Combat AIDS." The workshop will include discussions about the impact of acquired immune deficiency syndrome on the black family, strategies already being used to fight it, and recommendations for ways to disseminate information about the virus.
From those recommendations, organizers hope to put together a national AIDS intervention initiative that can be used by the council's potential outreach of 4 million women through affiliates, sister organizations and other groups.
In addition to a series of other workshops, the council is launching another first-of-its-kind effort. Tonight, it will conduct a teleconference workshop, open to the public, that has the potential for linking a million viewers nationwide in a dialogue about education, said Mabel Phifer of the office of satellite communications at Howard University.
The workshop will focus on the parent as the child's first teacher and offer examples from programs that are helping parents become more involved in their children's education.
Local participants in the workshop will gather at the Howard University Hospital auditorium, in Building 41 on the Van Ness campus of the University of the District of Columbia, and at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
Education has been a core concern of the council since its founding in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, but council members said that educating black people about AIDS has proven a difficult task.
Blacks, who comprise 12 percent of the general population, account for 25 percent of reported AIDS cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among female AIDS victims, 52 percent are black; among children, the figure is 54 percent. In the District, more than half of the AIDS victims are black.
"These numbers mean that we have to have an aggressive program," said Gertrude T. Hunter, medical adviser to the council and a professor at Howard's College of Medicine. "No one knows exactly what the course of this disease is going to be."