The following is an excerpt of remarks given by Cable Positive president and CEO Steve Villano at the organization's "Positively Visionary" benefit dinner May 1 in New York:
Some of us are old enough to remember a special transformational leader — indeed, a moral force — who was taken from us what seems like a short time ago.
He refused to accept things as they were, working tirelessly against injustice, poverty and the infectious disease of racism. He practiced a kind of "dangerous unselfishness" as he called it, asking of himself, "If I do not stop to help this person in need, what will happen to that person?"
It is a question which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always asked of himself and of others, including — for the last time — on April 3, 1968, when he asked it in Memphis on behalf of sanitation workers fighting for dignity and respect.
I often wonder what Dr. King would do today in the face of this T-cell terrorism called AIDS, which is destabilizing whole nations and communities, killing children and destroying families, particularly in communities of color. And so, I sought his guidance through his own words.
"I have decided to stick to love," Dr. King said in Atlanta, less than one year before his death, in a speech titled 'Where Do We Go from Here?' "I know that love is, ultimately, the only answer to mankind's problems — a strong, demanding love. I've seen too much hate on too many faces and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love."
Dr. King's call to action was echoed by Nelson Mandela last summer, when he told the International AIDS Conference how lethal hate, discrimination and stigma can be for people who are HIV-positive — people who are increasingly young and female and of color.
Here, in this country, discrimination, ignorance and stigma prevent people at high risk of HIV infection from getting tested, and deters them from treatment — a deterrence that can often be deadly.
That is why public education efforts like Black Entertainment Television's "Rap It Up" campaign and Cable Positive's educational and awareness initiatives are critically important. With HIV still
the world's fastest growing virus by a wide margin, education and erasing stigma are more essential than ever before.
Tonight, we honor two leaders [from Black Entertainment Television] — Robert L. Johnson [CEO] and Debra Lee [president and chief operating officer] — who had a dream of using the power and reach of their network to deliver life-saving information about HIV/AIDs to communities across the country, and they are delivering on that dream.
We stand here, challenged by the good work of Bob, Debra and BET, to lay out our own vision.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise-up and live out the true meaning of its creed — that all people will be treated equally, with dignity and respect.