MILWAUKEE – A medical professional and preventative specialist offered insight at Saturday’s forum on HIV and AIDS within the black community. Collectively, they called on churches to step up their role in HIV and AIDS prevention and tend to people who have acquired the disease.

Panelists at the forum – held at All Saints Catholic Church on the city’s north side – included the Rev. Jim Addison, program coordinator with the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin’s HIV/AIDS program. Also on hand was Natasha Travis, a doctor and assistant professor in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Division of Internal Medicine.

Rev. Addison, associate elder at Greater Philadelphia Church of God in Christ, Milwaukee, pointed to the Scriptures as a reason the religious community needs to be involved in dialogue concerning the continued spread of HIV and AIDS – a disease that is growing disproportionately within the black community. He pointed to 1 Corinthians 3:9, calling on God’s people to be collaborators, as a succinct example of the church’s role.

“We have a role to play, and (God) has a role to play,” Rev. Addison said. “We have to be ready and willing. When folks (in the church) are willing to work with us, we want to be sure that our attitude is correct.”

Speaking from personal experience, Rev. Addison said churches have been guilty of not responding lovingly to people who have contracted HIV and AIDS. Throughout his dozen years of working to stem the tide of the disease within the black community, Rev. Addison said he has repeatedly been humbled.

“I’m still learning,” he said. “I have a good heart, but sometimes have a messed up head. I’ve had many an impasse through the years. I am continually having to go back to God and am asking him how I can be effective.”

Rev. Addison is involved in a number of initiatives, including focus groups with people who have contracted HIV and AIDS. The goal, he said, is to gain a better understanding with first-hand, personal stories from people dealing with the disease.

“Trust is a big issue in the African- American community, so that’s been a struggle,” Rev. Addison said. “But we’re doing this with a compassionate and caring attitude.”

Travis, who studied at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, witnessed the plight of the under-insured and uninsured, and the importance of educating people about the dangers of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“The education is the best thing we can do in the medical profession,” she said. “I am very passionate about the African-American population. Everyone needs to have access to good (health care), even if they have limited insurance.”

Travis said she hopes churches can partner with medical professionals and other organizations in reversing the staggering statistics.

“I’m not a theologian, but (the church) should be the place where you do not feel ashamed,” Travis said. “This should be a place of solace. I really do think the church has a role here.”

Despite the dialogue and brainstorming at the six-hour forum and workshop Saturday, it became apparent more work is necessary.

About a dozen people, some of whom lost family and other loved ones to AIDS, attended the event. All Saints parishioner Cecelia Smith-Robertson, who spearheaded the forum, suggested the road to progress might not be fully realized.

“I’m really upset,” Smith-Robertson said of Saturday’s attendance, which was publicized through a number of media outlets. “This is an issue that’s impacting our community epidemically. How many more of us have to die before we wake up? There’s a stigma out there, and people are afraid. I don’t want people to be afraid.”

Rev. Addison, however, countered with a few words of encouragement.

“Keep doing these kinds of forums and other events,” he said. “When you have people on board that are energized, amazing things can happen. We definitely have work to do as people of God.”