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VIA: Detroit Free Press

Growing concern about HIV/AIDS in the African-American community is bringing together leaders in Detroit today to combat a disease that state health officials said infects blacks at a rate about 10 times higher than whites.

The event, led by African-American clergy in the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, is a breakfast of religious, political and labor leaders at Laborer’s Union Local 1191.

The nation’s black church leaders have been “woefully silent, even though this is something that is destroying people,” the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, pastor of New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, said Saturday.

Sheffield heads the Detroit chapter of the national AIDS commission.

Supporters are pushing a congressional bill known as National Black Clergy for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act of 2009, introduced in April to help tackle the spread of AIDS in African-American communities like Detroit.

The bill calls for changes including research grants to learn how to reduce the spread of the virus.

Sheffield said government funding is currently inadequate for addressing the spread of AIDS in African-American communities.

African Americans make up 14% of the state’s population, but they accounted for 60% of Michigan cases of HIV/AIDS diagnosed in 2007, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Web site.

African-American church leaders historically have opposed AIDS activism as part of many black churches’ opposition to gay relationships.

But the pastor of Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Detroit said Sunday that, although he had not seen notices of today’s breakfast, he supported the idea.

“All kinds of diseases are in the Bible. This one affects black people and we need to know about it,” the Rev. George Stewart said Sunday.

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