December 3, 2006
The health department says AIDS is a bigger problem in our community than most people think, with over 1,500 cases of AIDS in our local health district.
In an effort to promote awareness, one local church opened their congregation Sunday for a World AIDS Day celebration.
"The stigma going on here in Augusta is they feel like this is somebody else's disease, when it's something that anybody can have," said Joeron Williams, who is HIV-positive.
For the second year in a row, St. Mark's Methodist Church opened their doors, their minds, and their hearts to promote awareness and understanding.
"The church is for the community to come in and be healed, and it's for the sick," said Dr. Macie B. King, St. Mark's pastor.
The faces of today's sick might surprise you.
"Okay, I'm not gay, I'm not a prostitute, I'm not on drugs, so I shouldn't worry about it. But I was neither one," said Tammie Dunbar. "I was a housewife dedicated to my husband. But he was out shooting drugs."
"Everybody knows somebody that's infected or will be infected or somebody that's affected, so we got to stop running, because it's everywhere," said AIDS advocate Sandra Wimberly.
Augusta Commissioner Joe Bowles is certainly not running. He came to speak on behalf of his brother Ricky who died from the disease.
"That's a shocking thing to go through here in Augusta," he said. "In 1985, you had a lot of churches here that wouldn't open their doors to talk about the issue."
Over the last 20 years, he's watched the face of the disease change as well.
"The problem now has shifted from the gay white male to the African American population. Straight, gay...it affects everybody," he said.
And everybody who's affected represents a disease that could have been prevented.
This congregation hopes it can help spread that knowledge by first spreading the word.
The numbers across Georgia are alarming.
Georgia ranks eighth in the nation for reported number of AIDS. Augusta falls in the east Central Health District, and in the district's 13 counties, there are 1,582 cases of AIDS, with 22 people being diagnosed this year alone.