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HIV, Prison and the Justice System: The New Concentration Camps

Actress and model Melyssa Ford will be serving up a four-part series on the state and importance of black sexual health, delving into the topics AIDS/HIV. Be informed, be safe and protect your worth.

Imagine that your every move is being cataloged and investigated, that everyone you interact with is placed under surveillance and that your health care provider releases your confidential records to a committee of people trying to publicly label you a menace, get you off the streets and thrown into the deepest hole they can find? If you have HIV, this committee is the US Criminal Justice System and this is how they are legally allowed to annul your rights.

In the first part of this series, I stressed how important it is to know your status and how you should never compromise yourself or your health, even when it comes to love and relationships. In the first part of this series, I stress how important it is to know your status and how you should never compromise yourself or your health, even when it comes to love and relationships. Trust, after all, can be manipulated. Whether to cover up dirty deeds or otherwise, like in the case of Marvelyn Brown, the wrong choice can come at an extremely high price. For Brown and many others who have been diagnosed with HIV, the price is even higher. In addition to being ostracized from her family, friends and communities that serve as daily reminders of the cross she bares, criminal statutes and laws in the US triple her angst by threatening her right to privacy and potentially her freedom because of her publicly disclosed status.

As much as I consider myself to be an advocate in the fight to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, I sit on the side of the fence of preventing as many people from contracting it through education and persistent campaigning. I have rarely had to address when someone follows my advice--or the advice of federal and state public health officials--gets tested and comes up positive, but I will address that in my final article in this series.

I placed people who are HIV positive in two categories: the public advocates whom I greatly admire such as Maria Davis, Hydiea Broadbent, Marvelyn Brown and, of course, Erving “Magic” Johnson, a personal friend of mine. The other category (and it’s with shame that I admit this) is the one I placed people like Nushawn Williams in, the 19-year-old man convicted in 1997 of knowingly infecting his sexual partners with HIV. Without any research or investigating on my part, I subscribed to the propaganda and the sensational media coverage that paints him as a monster. There was a part of me that believed that there are folks out there, intentionally infecting others through irresponsible sexual behavior; this belief was supported by the statistic that 1 in 5 people don’t know their status because they’ve never been tested, which could lead one to think they don’t want to know it.

After conducting weeks of research, my perspective has been drastically altered. In order to offer a vivid picture as to how perceptions and attitudes have (or have not) changed towards HIV/AIDS since its discovery 30 years ago, I turned to several experts on the subject of public health and safety and legal experts who work directly in the field of HIV Criminalization.

One such expert is Ms. Catherine Hansenns, Executive Director and Founder of The Center for HIV Law and Policy. It was through my conversations with her and the information provided on her website that I began to see the true threat caused by the stigmatization and permeated ignorance of which we treat the subject of HIV.

HIV statutes and prosecutions contradict and, therefore, undermine public health goals by, basically, scaring people into refusal of testing.  On one hand, you have both federal and state public health officials urging the public to get tested and to know their HIV status; on the other hand, there are laws who punish those who have taken the step to get tested and who have been diagnosed as positive. Says Ms. Hansenns

“The government has taken the position through its laws that people with HIV are so dangerous and so toxic that we need to develop special laws in which to punish and control them.”

Arrest records show people criminalized by this process have faced charges ranging from assault and aggravated assault to depraved indifference and a host of fines with lengthy prison sentences. In the case of Nushawn Williams, former mayor Rudy Guiliani pushed to prosecute him for attempted murder (this charge didn’t stand up in court).

According to Ms. Hansenns, once someone is convicted of HIV criminal laws and statutes, you are subject to involuntary commitment past the length of your sentence if you are considered to be a menace and threat to public health. More and more, involuntary civil commitments are being used against people with HIV. In addition to this, registration with the National Sex Offenders Registry database is also a strong likelihood which would lead to future employment, rental and home ownership and privacy issues.
Not only may laws like these discourage people from getting tested, but it may also discourage people, who are positive, from taking part in other kinds of preventive activities. If going to speak to someone at a health clinic and discussing with them your sex life and who you are involved with can trigger a criminal investigation, who in their right mind would welcome that kind of intrusion into their lives willingly?

The 5th amendment of the constitution allows for a person to withhold self-incriminating information; HIV laws are loop-holing around this by using the public health system in order to determine and remove who THEY believe pose a threat to the general public, simply because of a positive HIV status. With this idea in place there may as well be a pre-crime division within the police department, arresting people for their thoughts. In order to opine as to what someone who is HIV positive would do, once they’re aware of their diagnosis, is to ask yourself that question: Would you suddenly make it your full time objective to infect as many people as you could? Studies show that most people with a positive status actually become more conscious of their health.

It would be foolish to think that there aren’t instances where a person knows their status is positive and still acts irresponsibly, having unprotected sex. But when you talk about sex, the concept of legal and consensual sex, excluding sex taken by force, incest and molestation, there are two consenting individuals involved during a the act.

Whether that act is protected through condom use or not, the choice is made by both parties. In order to maintain the quality of life we are all entitled to, a sense of self worth and personal responsibility must exist. YOUR status is YOUR responsibility, so the onus of asking the “unromantic” but necessary questions about a perspective partner’s sexual health history falls on YOU. In 2011, with all of our advancements in medical care, a positive status doesn’t have to mean a death sentence; but in the eyes of the law, it certainly can mean a life sentence.

For more information about b condoms, HIV/AIDS or World AIDS Day, please check out @bcondoms, www.bcondoms.com, or worldaidsdays.org

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Vivica A. Fox Explains Past Hesitance Behind 'Two Can Play That Game' Script

In a new interview with Essence, actress Vivica A. Fox discussed how she initially turned down her role in Two Can Play That Game based on the script. The established entertainer said it's her mission to ensure that black people are positively portrayed onscreen, and noticed the aforementioned film's prose didn't live up to those standards.

"I think the reason why—no I know the reason why—I've been doing this for such a long time is that I fight," Fox said. "When we did Two Can Play That Game, I fought for the way we talked, walked, the way we loved each other." The Set It Off actress continued to state that she consistently declined Two Can Play That Game before signing on to play the lead role. "Because the script, when I first got it, I turned it down three times because it just wasn't a good representation of African-Americans, so I fought them on everything," she noted. "I want to make sure that the images of African-Americans are as positive and as true as they can possibly be."

In 2001, the romantic comedy debuted to fanfare, boasting an all-star cast of Morris Chestnut, Mo'Nique, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Brown, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and more. Directed by Mark Brown (Barbershop, Iverson, How To Be A Player), Fox plays a career driven person named Shante Smith who navigates a curveball when her boyfriend Keith Fenton (Chestnut) cheats on her with a co-worker.

After its release, Two Can Play That Game raked in over $22 million at the box office.

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Actress Gabrielle Union attends the Being Mary Jane premiere, screening, and party on January 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
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BET To Unveil Edible Billboard For 'Being Mary Jane' Wedding Finale

As Being Mary Jane comes to an end, BET is willing to offer fans a taste of what's to come in the series finale.

The network has enlisted the help of Ayesha Curry, celebrity cook and cookbook author, to create an edible billboard that also doubles as a wedding cake. The sweet treat will commemorate Mary Jane's (played by Gabrielle Union) nuptials in the two-hour series finale.

On April 20 from 1:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal in New York, fans will be presented with the edible billboard. At the intersection of Ashland Place and Hanson Place, the closer Being Mary Jane enthusiasts get to the billboard the quicker they'll notice that the four-tiered wedding cake is created from individual boxes, each containing a slice of Curry's prized wedding cake.

All fans have to do is pull a box from the billboard, snap a picture for the 'Gram, take a bite and enjoy. Although lovers of the show won't be able to celebrate with Mary Jane herself, biting into a slice of her wedding cake, for free, is the next best thing.

Don't forget to tune into the series finale of Being Mary Jane on Tues. (April 23) at 8/7 c.

Also, check out what's to come on the series of Being Mary Jane below.

Save the date! 👰🏾It'll be worth the wait. Join us for the series finale of #BeingMaryJane TUES APR 23 8/7c only on @BET! pic.twitter.com/jEwkbC71OW

— #BeingMaryJane (@beingmaryjane) March 29, 2019

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The North Face

Ella Mai On The North Face's 'Explore Mode' Campaign, New Music And Living In The Moment

Ella Mai is in her own age of exploration. Her eponymous debut album scored her a platinum plaque with her breakout hit, "Boo'd Up" earning her a Grammy for Best R&B Song. But the accolades aren't driving her creative path. The arc in her compass is all about the places she's traveled, the people she's met and the lessons learned along the way.

"To be honest, personally, exploration is like growth. I feel like if you don't explore new things, whether it's going outside, meeting people or trying new food, you won't ever grow because you're just stuck in your little comfort zone which can be super scary to come out of," she tells VIBE at The North Face's Explore Mode event in New York on Monday (April 15). The singer is one of three women (including model-activist Gabrielle Richardson and chef Angela Dimayuga) who teamed up with the brand to share a message of enjoying the outside world without digital confinement and the global initiative to make Earth Day a national holiday.

The London native's urge to explore came in handy over the weekend when she performed in the brisk desert of Coachella. Inspired by artists like Rihanna and Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mai helped fans enjoy the hazy sunset as she performed hits like "Trip" and her latest No. 1 song, "Shot Clock."

"It's such a good feeling, especially when it comes to radio," she shared about her track reaching No. 1 on the airplay chart. "I wasn't even sure if people listened to the radio because people have so much access to streaming platforms, but obviously having all three of my singles from my debut album, go number one on urban radio is incredible."

That energy was brought to the Coachella stage with the festival being her biggest artistic exploration so far.

"My favorite part of the performance would have to be when I performed "Naked" and because it was dark, and I performed when the sun went down, I couldn't see how far the crowd actually went back. But during "Naked," it was such an intimate moment I asked everyone to put their lights up (phones) and when I saw how far it went back I was like, "Woah." That moment sealed it for me."

"Even there were two people in the audience, I still would've done my best," she added. "But just to see the crowd be so engaged, even if they didn't know the music, was a really good feeling. I had so much fun."

As the festival energy in Indio, Calif. continued to thrive, another rested on the streets of Los Angeles following the loss of Nipsey Hussle. With the singer having ties to those close to the rapper like DJ Mustard, she says the shift in the city was hard to ignore.

"As weird as it sounds, you felt it," she said. "Even in the weather, it was super hot and then everyone got the news and it started raining. Just a weird energy shift." As a new L.A. resident, the singer says Nipsey's influence cannot be denied.

"I feel like the energy shift went both ways; everyone was really sad, grieving and mourning but everyone feels more inspired by what he was doing that they want to go out and do something and change in their community. It's still a very touchy subject in L.A., especially the people that I'm around since they were very close to him. I think everyone is super inspired to do better and try to be more like him, which is great to see. YG's whole set at Coachella was dedicated to him, I know Khalid had a dedication to Mac Miller. Everyone is super aware of what Nipsey was trying to do and how he wanted to change the world."

Engaging in The North Face's mission to explore seemed to be in the cards for Mai. Like many of us, Mai was familiar with the brand's effective coolness factor. "I remember running home and telling my mom that I needed a Jester Backpack because my cousin had one as well, and it's similar to the other stories, I wanted to be like my older cousin (laughs) so my mom ended up getting me one." But there's also the incentive to showcase the importance of stepping away from the phone screens and into leafy green forests.

"I'm such a live-in-the-moment person," she says of her lack of identity on social media. While she might share a thought or two on social media, Mai is interested in appreciating the world around her. "I feel like everyone is so consumed about documenting the day, you don't really get to live the day. You just watch it back but I like to have the memories in my head. Of course, sometimes, I'll take out my phone but I try to live in the moment as much as possible."

Part of that mission is ensuring Earth Day is celebrated the right way. With the support of Mai, Richardson, and Dimayuga, The North Face officially launched a petition to make Earth Day a national holiday.

“The North Face is no stranger to exploration and this Earth Day we are proud to join our partners and fellow explorers in a global effort to make Earth Day a national holiday,” said Global General Manager of Lifestyle at The North Face, Tim Bantle. “We believe that when people take time to appreciate the Earth, they feel more connected to it and are more likely to protect it. Explore Mode urges us to unplug from our digital lives to connect in real life to the world, each other, and ourselves in the effort to move the world forward.”

Mai hasn't hit her all of her exploration goals just yet. "I really want to go to Indonesia or Bali," she said. "That's one of my Bucket List places I really, really, really wanna go." For her essentials, the singer knows she has to bring along a windbreaker set and of course, a jester backpack. "I think the backpack is the most important thing."

In addition to a few trips around the globe, one destination includes the studio for new music. While she hasn't had time to lock down a moment to record, the inspiration is sizzling.

"When I work in the studio, I like to be like there for a good amount of time," she explains. "I like to block off two to three weeks at a time, I don't like to go to different studios and different places, it's just a comfort thing but I'm very excited to get back cause I have a lot of talk about. I've seen so many different places and met so many new people and a lot that I didn't get to experience last year."

Learn more about The North Face's petition for Earth Day here.

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