Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, is marking a quarter century with "25 Events for 25 Years." The year-long outreach will include HIV testing, a food drive, fundraising, and health education workshops.
Executive director Gary Bell called the milestone bittersweet. "On the one hand, we are blessed and we are honored to continue to be here to help the community, but it's also a sign that we haven't found a cure for HIV and we haven't as a community come to fully grasp the magnitude of the epidemic and its impact on black folks," he said.
BEBASHI was the first nonprofit in the country to target HIV among African-Americans exclusively, providing culturally sensitive AIDS education and assistance. After Bell joined the agency in 1996, it expanded its services to include STD testing, support groups, and a food pantry.
State senator Vincent Hughes, a longtime AIDS activist, lauded BEBASHI's work: "There are only a few organizations that have been on the front line of the HIV/AIDS battle for more than two decades. BEBASHI has continually addressed the diverse needs of the HIV/AIDS community with commitment and excellence. The organization has distinguished itself as a nationally recognized leader both at the policy development level and the street advocacy level. Their tireless efforts in the HIV/AIDS arena is worthy of commendation."
Bell said a new focus for the agency is young people, a group seeing a growing number of HIV infections. Young black men who have sex with men are especially affected, representing 55% of new infections among African-Americans ages 13 to 29, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In response, the agency has launched "Text 4 the Truth," in which young people can text (267) 265-8228 to ask anonymous sexual health questions.