By all accounts, Dr. Mark Colomb was an outlier in his community. Throughout his 45 years of life, the Ridgeland, Mississippi resident advanced rapidly through the ranks of the medical establishment, first as a graduate assistant at Jackson State University, then as a staff administrator at the college, managing over a half-dozen projects for the school. During his five year tenure, he raised over 9 million in federal grants for various projects targeting everything from heart disease to obesity, diabetes to prostate cancer.
He'd later have the honor of consulting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during its Minority AIDS Initiative. Colomb would use the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the black community, speaking out on controversial issues such as HIV/AIDS at every turn.
Colomb--who was gay-- died last year, but the Department of Health and Human Services is determined to build on his legacy--through social media.
According to blog.aids.gov, the website--a subset of HHS-- is scheduled to attend the 9th annual National African American MSM Leadership Conference on HIV/AIDS and Other Health Disparities in New Orleans, Louisiana.
During the Jan. 19-22nd conference, researchers, officials and community will gather--not to talk viral loads and white cell counts--but Twitter mentions, friend requests, YouTube channels, and other social media topics--all in an effort to reach out to gay and lesbians in the black community.
In addition, aids.gov will host workshops on social media strategy, new media, AIDS outreach and other issues.
According to the CDC, African Americans account for 44 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in 2009--a disproportionate amount to the general population. Urban areas such as Atlanta and Miami are at high risk too--over 80 percent of Atlanta's majority black residents are HIV positive, while blacks comprise 55 percent of new AIDS cases in Miami-Dade County.
Nonprofits such as Columb's My Brother's Keeper are stepping in to fill the outreach gap. One project--the Center for Community-based Programs--aims at spreading word of the disease to heterosexual and homosexual youth in the black community.
The Road to AIDS is fighting the good fight too. The nonprofit is kicking off it's tour of the US this January, hosting a series of town halls in New Orleans, Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Baltimore, and 11 other locations in advance of the XIX International AIDS Conference in D.C. this summer.