Philadelphia FIGHT to host 11th-annual World AIDS Day Prayer Breakfast

Dr. Calenthia Dowdy at a previous Philadelphia FIGHT World AIDS Day Prayer Breakfast. Photo: Courtesy Chip Alfred

Health services organization Philadelphia FIGHT will hold its 11th-annual World AIDS Day Prayer Breakfast on Nov. 30. 

About 300 people from the city’s various faith communities are expected to gather to remember those who have died from HIV/AIDS and “offer hope and healing for those who are living with” the disease, according to a release. The event will take place 8-10:30 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Center City. 

The prayer breakfast aims to get faith communities more involved in fighting HIV/AIDS and combat the stigma that surrounds the disease, including the misconception that it only affects the LGBTQ population, said Dr. Calenthia Dowdy, director of faith initiatives at Philadelphia FIGHT.

“The prayer breakfast message is [to] keep educating about the realities to get rid of stigma, but also on World AIDS Day, the idea is to celebrate all the advances, the medication and to celebrate those who are still with us because of those advances in medication,” she added. 

According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, approximately 19,500 Philadelphia residents have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The city’s infection rate is five times the national average.

Dowdy, who has worked at Philadelphia FIGHT for six years, said the breakfast is a meeting place that facilitates connection between LGBTQ people of faith who attend and more conservative folks. 

In past years at the event, Dowdy reconnected with a man living with HIV who she worked with at a teenagers’ group home during her 20s when he was just 13-years-old. She also witnessed an elderly church woman connect with an approximately 40-year-old man living with HIV about his experience. 

“He’s telling her, ‘I’ve been living with HIV for 15 years, and she looked at him, and she said, ‘Really? You look great, you look healthy.’ They continued this conversation while going through the line and they ended up exchanging contact info because she wanted to keep in touch with him just to learn more, to hear more of his story and maybe even invite him to come and share some things at her church,” Dowdy told PGN. “I just thought, ‘Wow, that was real nice. Where else would those folks have met and talked?’” 

Patricia A. Davenport, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod and the first African-American woman to hold the position in the country’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, is slated to be the keynote speaker. She will join Dr. Frank James, president and professor of historical theology at Missio Seminary, and Dr. Ronald Matthews, Eastern University president. Jazz vocalist and instrumentalist Ruth Naomi Floyd will provide a musical call to prayer.  

The prayer breakfast builds on a stigma-addressing curriculum Dowdy facilitates at Philadelphia FIGHT. Faithful TEACH — which stands for treatment, education, activism and combating HIV — is a six-week course geared toward faith leaders that focuses on the science surrounding HIV/AIDS and addresses misconceptions about the disease. Thirteen cohorts have graduated the program, Dowdy said, with about 20 people in each class. 

The initiative is part of what she views as “a better response” to HIV/AIDS by faith communities since the 1980s and early 1990s. 

“With education and with time and a lot of patience, we have come a long way,” Dowdy said. “Now, there is still lots of work to be done, but we’re definitely not where we were.”

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