The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBCLA), in conjunction with its “National Call of Action” against HIV/AIDS, will host their Choose Life Awards Benefit Gala on June 3.The benefit gala will take place at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan. Former President Bill Clinton will serve as national chair of the gala.

As founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, the former president has done his share to combat HIV/AIDS around the world. Back in 2002, he formed the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative to address the gap in access to treatment in developing nations via negotiating prices for lifesaving antiretroviral treatment. The initiative also works with governments to improve the national health care systems.

In addition to Clinton’s presence, the NBCLA will also honor various individuals who have contributed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Andre Leon Tally, editor at large for Vogue magazine; John A. Catsimatidis, chairman and chief operating officer of Red Apple Group/Grist; A. Cornelius Baker, senior advisor to the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition; and Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, are among those being honored. Many other leaders from the clergy, government and healthcare fields will be in attendance to help raise awareness, funds and support to turn the tide against the impact of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), of the estimated 141 infants perinatally (during the time of birth) infected with HIV in 2005, 65 percent were African-American. Between 2001 and 2004, 61 percent of individuals newly diagnosed with HIV under the age of 25 were African-American.

“HIV/AIDS is a worsening public health crisis among African-Americans and other peoples of color,” said NBLCA’s President and CEO C. Virginia Fields. “We are issuing a ‘National Call to Action’ in response to the alarming data that has come out.”

In 2005, the rate of AIDS diagnoses for Black adults and adolescents was 10 times the rate of whites and nearly three times the rate of Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for Black women was nearly 23 times the rate for White women. According to the CDC, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among Black women between the ages of 25 and 34, and the second leading cause of death in Black men between the ages of 35 and 44.These numbers, and more, leave Fields restless and hopeful at the same time. She’s looking forward to the gala at the Lighthouse with her eyes on the prize. “It is critical that this event be more successful than ever,” she said.