KCK church addresses AIDS with innovative program

LaTrischa Miles, left, and Yvonne Richmond are two organizers of the Taking it to the Pews AIDS awareness project at Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Kan. (Photo by Mike Sherry, KHI News Service)

by Mike Sherry, KHI News Service

When activists worldwide marked three decades since the emergence of a mysterious immune disease, Kansas City, Kan., participants posted a timeline of key events in the fight against the AIDS pandemic in a building foyer in their community.

Yet this was no ordinary foyer; it was the main entrance to Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ at 2025 N. 12th St. Not only that, but the display in the African-American church went up right around Christmastime to coincide with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

“That was the first thing that you saw when you came through the front door of the church – was this huge bulletin board. So that was paramount, because it was not just Mt. Carmel folks who were seeing this,” says church member LaTrischa Miles, who helped coordinate the 2011 display.

Visiting churches were coming through at the time, mixing with Mt. Carmel congregants.

It was all part of a project known as Taking it to the Pews, a project spearheaded by Jannette Berkley-Patton, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. One of her main partners is the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of Calvary Temple Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

Church power
Years in the making, the project aims to leverage the credibility of the church in the black community to attack a disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans. A key component in helping to eliminate the stigma is making HIV testing available to the congregation during services – oftentimes with the pastor and his wife leading by example from the pulpit.

And now, Berkely-Patton and her colleagues are poised to take what could be the final step in what may become a tool for black churches across the country to address AIDS – as well as exploring whether the TIPS model can help reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases within the black community.

With a new five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, project organizers are putting together a full clinical trial expected to include up to 14 churches across the metropolitan area. Researchers aim to engage about 1,500 adult African Americans.

“We will be knocking on a bunch of doors trying to get new churches involved,” Berkely-Patton says.

According to the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, AIDS affects blacks more than any other racial-ethnic group. Citing data from 2010, the CDC says:

• African-Americans accounted for an estimated 44 percent of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents (aged 13 years or older), despite representing only 12 percent of the U.S. population.

• African American women accounted for nearly a third (29 percent) of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent African Americans. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for African-American women (38.1/100,000 population) was 20 times that of white women and almost five times that of Hispanic-Latino women.

• The greater number of people living with HIV in African-American communities and the tendency of African-Americans to have sex with partners of the same race-ethnicity means that they face a greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.

Early in the AIDS pandemic, Williams recognized that black clergy were inadvertently contributing to the fear and stigma surrounding the disease by demonizing it from the pulpit. A defining moment for Williams came, he said, when a family could not find anyone to conduct the funeral of their gay son who had died from AIDS.

Touchy subject
“Most of our colleagues, if you were to ask them if they wanted to relieve human suffering, hands down, they would, ‘Yes, we believe the church should be equipped to relieve human suffering,’” Williams said. “Until you start talking about HIV. Then the waters start getting a little fuzzier.”

By the mid-1990s, though, Williams said, attitudes among black clergy began to soften as they witnessed the effects of the disease on sufferers and their families within their congregations.

Then, in 2005, Berkley-Patton arrived at UMKC as an adjunct faculty member.
A product of Kansas City’s urban core who grew up attending Second Baptist Church at 39th Street and Monroe Avenue, Berkley-Patton had left a job in the aerospace industry to earn a doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Kansas.

Upon her return to the city, Berkley-Patton became active with the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS in Kansas City.

Her involvement came as Williams and others involved with a sister organization of his church, Calvary Community Outreach Network, were growing frustrated that clergy had not progressed on AIDS education initiatives suggested through the Black Church Week of Prayer. The clergy had not done much, he says, mainly because they didn’t know where to start or how to convey the information.

That formed the seeds of TIPS, which launched in 2006 with some local grants. It began with a series of focus groups and planning sessions involving about a dozen churches in the metropolitan area.

Patton then got an initial National Institutes of Health grant to conduct a four-church pilot, along with the outreach network, in 2011-2012. Mt. Carmel was one of the churches in the pilot, which showed promise in getting people tested.

Mt. Carmel experience
Mt. Carmel performed 179 tests during the pilot, Miles said. That’s a significant amount, given that community outreach events typically log no more than 10 or 15 tests.

Church leaders committed to holding at least two events per month, Miles said – whether youth activities, responsive readings, rallies or testimonials.
Medical staff only tested individuals between the ages of 18 and 64, but conversations were not limited to those age groups, said Stephanie Kimbrough, another church member involved with the pilot.

Kimbrough says it certainly opened lines of communication between her and her daughter, who was 12 years old at the time. The pilot also engaged older congregants as well, she says.

“Imagine talking to an 80-year-old woman about anal sex,” Kimbrough said. “That’s not always easy. Sometimes they didn’t understand. You had to explain what this was.”

Transferable process?
Berkley-Patton is hoping TIPS strategies work for other conditions afflicting the black community, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

She has termed that initiative Faith Influencing Transformation, an eight-month project scheduled to begin this fall with an $850,000 grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Berkley-Patton is working with the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies to perhaps have FIT provide hands-on experience to undergraduate health sciences students as preparation for public health careers.

At Mt. Carmel, Miles said, addressing other health issues might seem like a piece of cake after the discussion within the congregation about AIDS.

“If we could organize around an issue as complex as this, with the stigma and the lack of education,” she said, “then I think we can tackle anything.”

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. More about the News Service is at khi.org/newsservice or contact 785- 233-5443.

Three KCK residents injured in highway crash

Three Kansas City, Kan., residents were injured in a chain crash involving five vehicles at 5:08 p.m. June 26 on I-35 northbound under Quivira Road in Lenexa, Kan.

The Kansas Highway Patrol trooper’s report stated that a Chevrolet was traveling northbound when it rear-ended a Mercedes-Benz. The Mercedes-Benz then hit a Pontiac G6. The Chevrolet then struck an Ford Econoline and a Jeep Compass, according to the report.

Injured in the Chevrolet were a 39-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man who was driving; a 5-year-old girl passenger; and a 3-year-old boy passenger. They were taken to hospitals.

The driver of the Mercedes-Benz, a 29-year-old man from Kansas City, Mo., also was injured and taken to a hospital.

The driver of the Pontiac G6, a 29-year-old woman from Liberty, Mo., also was injured and taken to a hospital.

The driver of the Ford Econoline, a 26-year-old man from Frankford, Mo., was injured and taken to a hospital.

The driver of the Jeep Compass, a 35-year-old woman from Kansas City, Kan., was not injured.

If you’ve been involved in an accident that resulted in yourself or a loved one being injured, then it might be a good idea to file a lawsuit. If you aren’t sure about which lawyers to use then you could always check out someone like this Dallas Personal Injury Law Firm to help you with your case. If you have never been in a car accident, then hopefully you will never need to get a lawyer.

New Schlitterbahn water slide opening postponed again

The Verruckt, a new water slide at Schlitterbahn, will not open as scheduled on Sunday, June 29, according to an announcement tonight by Schlitterbahn officials.

The ride is billed as the “world’s tallest” water slide at 168 feet 7 inches, after being measured by Guinness Records earlier this year.

Schlitterbahn officials recently said the delay earlier this week was caused by a problem with the conveyor system.

The opening is expected to be announced later.