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Civic Leader and HIV/AIDS Advocate Cedric Sturdevant Highlights Three Major Crises Plaguing Mississippi Delta Region

Last updated Thursday, June 27, 2024 12:21 ET , Source: Cedric Sturdevant

Cedric Sturdevant, a civic leader and HIV/AIDS advocate explains how limited access to sex education, mental health, and transportation services is fueling a crisis in the Mississippi Delta region.

Greenville, Mississippi, 06/27/2024 / SubmitMyPR /

The Mississippi Delta Region is one of the poorest areas in the United States, owing to numerous historical and systemic problems. The region is considered the deepest of the Deep South, and it was one of the most prolific cotton-growing areas prior to the Civil War. Numerous cotton plantations using enslaved Black labor were situated in the region, and, while the scars dealt by slavery have yet to heal across the US, they are probably the deepest in the Mississippi Delta. Today, it is still easy to see the terrible legacy of slavery and associated systems, such as the sharecropping system, racial segregation, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the white minority, and the political disenfranchisement of Black people.

The region, which is mostly rural, is struggling with poverty, inferior health outcomes, lack of employment opportunities, shortage of decent housing, and poor educational quality. One of the organizations working to alleviate these problems besetting the Mississippi Delta is Community Health PIER (CHP), founded in 2017 by Cedric Sturdevant and his sister, the late Gloria Sturdevant. PIER stands for prevention, intervention, education, and research – the organization’s four pillars of action and an integral part of its mission. Cedric is known in the community as a staunch advocate for HIV/AIDS issues, using his experience as a gay Black man living with HIV to reach vulnerable sectors.

Cedric Sturdevant, co-founder of Community Health PIER

According to Cedric, the driving force behind CHP’s foundation was the dismal health situation in the Mississippi Delta Region, and the organization has focused on increasing access to health knowledge and services, especially in impoverished Black-majority communities. Over the years, Cedric has identified three major access-related problems that majorly contribute to the health crisis in the Delta, as well as the wider State of Mississippi.

Lack of Access to Sex Education

Science-based sex education is crucial in preventing HIV/AIDS, as it equips people, especially the youth, with the knowledge of how the virus is transmitted and how to protect themselves. It also prevents other problems such as teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. However, access to proper sex education is lacking in Mississippi because it is not mandatory. According to Cedric, Mississippi has a horribly outdated law that requires teachers to request approval from the School Board before organizations such as CHP can conduct sexual and reproductive health lectures. One of CHP’s objectives is to have this law repealed and make scientific, age-appropriate sex education mandatory.

“Several years ago, I went to a middle school to talk about HIV/AIDS and sexual health,” Cedric says. “I was not allowed to bring pamphlets that provided additional information and links to online resources. While I was allowed to talk about condoms, I couldn't display an actual one, making it incredibly difficult to discuss how to properly put on a condom. Improper condom use is one of the most common causes of failure.”

In another lecture, Cedric spoke to a high school football team upon invitation by the coach, and while correct sexual knowledge was deficient, he also noticed that the athletes knew about the importance of safe sex and were interested in learning about it.

Lack of Access to Mental Health

The late Gloria Sturdevant, co-founder of Community Health PIER

Before she tragically passed away in August 2023, one of Gloria’s main advocacies was mental health. While mental health resources are available in the larger cities such as Jackson, the Delta region is mostly rural, where many youth cannot easily access these resources. In some areas, the closest major city is Memphis, Tennessee, so people have to cross state lines just to see a mental health professional.

Cedric adds that lack of access to mental health extends not just to professional help and medication, but there is also a shortage of support groups in the region. Some youth may be dealing with an abusive or unsupportive family situation, so having a professionally guided peer group to talk to is important in helping deal with their mental health conditions, such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

“We have various support groups for people dealing with mental health issues, including LGBTQ-specific ones,” Cedric says. “In many areas, there is a high number of Black men being killed due to violence, and peer groups provide support to help them avoid falling in with the wrong crowd or deal with stressful situations.”

Lack of Access to Transportation

Due to Mississippi’s geography and mostly rural communities, transportation options are hard to come by. Almost everything is spaced far apart, and there are few public transportation options serving various areas. Many areas don’t have bus or rail lines servicing them, making it hard to get around for people who cannot afford their own vehicles. Even for those who have a car, rising gas prices have made it expensive to drive long distances. This has a huge impact on health, as people are unable to see medical care providers when they need it. For example, people living with HIV need an uninterrupted supply of antiretroviral medications to keep their viral load low. Many need to visit a different town or city to obtain their medications, and, if they are unable to due to transportation issues, they risk their condition worsening.

Aside from calling on county and state governments to invest in public transportation, CHP uses its network to organize transportation for people who need to visit medical providers.

“Lack of transportation is a major problem here,” Cedric says. “People sometimes don't want their family to take them to the doctor, especially those who have been recently diagnosed with HIV, because their family may not know yet.”

Cedric believes that resolving these three issues will greatly help in improving the health outcomes of impoverished Black communities in the Mississippi Delta region. Aside from governmental action, organizations such as CHP contribute greatly in highlighting problems and bringing people together to work towards solutions. CHP’s work would not be possible without generous donations from the public.

“The poor health outcomes in the region have multiple and deep-rooted causes that need extensive social change to resolve,” Cedric says. “Only with the public’s support can we continue providing vital life-affirming services as well as call on authorities to take action on pressing problems that are affecting a large and often-neglected portion of society.”

Media Contact:

Contact: Cedric Sturdevant

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Original Source of the original story >> Civic Leader and HIV/AIDS Advocate Cedric Sturdevant Highlights Three Major Crises Plaguing Mississippi Delta Region