After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Verneda White saw that thousands in a place she once called home struggled to rebuild a life torn apart by the devastating storm. Just five months later, her family was forced to deal with another devastating loss — her 22-year-old cousin James succumbed to AIDS.
From this tragedy comes Human Intonation, a for-profit business that White started with the underlying expressed purpose of benefiting charity partners, most notably, organizations that address the need for HIV prevention, education, and treatment. White donates 20 percent of each sale to philanthropic groups.
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, a time to join in the fight against this killer of millions. The World AIDS Day organization estimates that there are 34 million people around the globe living with AIDS. Despite the fact that it has risen to the level of epidemic, AIDS remains mired in stigma, and teaching people about the disease is an ongoing goal around the world.
But there is some good news. A recent UN report shows that the number of new cases of HIV infection has dropped 30 percent in recent years. The group credits better treatment and education with the decline. The UN says the former is made possible by a dramatic drop in the cost of drugs, down to $140 per year from $10,000 at one point.
Even with this progress, diligence is necessary, particularly among the black community. According to Voice of America, though African Americans make up 12 percent of the US population, they make up 50 percent of new HIV cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, says homophobia in the black community puts young, gay black men at high risk. And HIV is the leading cause of death among African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34, with the rate of infection 20 times higher than that of white women.
“Despite the apparent urgency of this issue, especially in the black community, funding for AIDS prevention has stagnated in the last half decade,” The Atlantic writes.
That sense of urgency, in some ways, has diminished because of the advancements made since the 1980s. White says it “makes her cringe” when she hears statements like that.
“I remember when he told me he was HIV positive and thinking nothing of it,” White told MadameNoire Business, referring to the day she got the news from her cousin, a family member she loved immensely. “I expected him to live another 30 or 50 years. He died in five months.” Her message, and the message of others, is to get tested and, if you’re infected, to get treatment quickly.
To that end, White gives generously to organizations that benefit this cause. Continued recovery from Hurricane Katrina, education in Darfur, and help for the poor in Haiti are some of the other causes that she has become involved with. To give this much, White says she has to be aggressive about making money. “Fairly early on, I saw that I have to be a profitable business. It couldn’t only be the philanthropic part,” she said.