Cause Celeb

Call it history in the making. A slew of Hollywood’s biggest names are lending their names (and arms) in the name of HIV awareness. Regina King, Howard Hesseman and Jimmy Jean-Louis of NBC’s “Heroes” are among a group of entertainers getting voluntary HIV tests next week to raise public awareness of the virus in black communities.

The actors will not only be undergoing the test, but they will be doing so in front of cameras at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) headquarters in Los Angeles. Their efforts are part of a new campaign called “1 in a Million.” The campaign’s goal is to motivate 1 million black Americans to get tested for HIV/AIDS by Dec. 1, 2008.

“Actors are blessed with the gift of voice, and people listen to what they have to say,” SAG president Alan Rosenberg told reporters yesterday. Campaign directors say they hope others will be inspired to undergo testing after seeing the actors getting screened.

Other celebrity participants include Hill Harper (“CSI: NY”), musical stage star Sheryl Lee Ralph, former “ER” star Gloria Reuben and former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star Tatyana Ali.

Studies show AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 and 34, and up to 46 percent of black gay men are estimated to be HIV-positive.

“AIDS in America today is a black disease,” said Phil Wilson, founder of the Black AIDS Institute. “Nobody wants to talk about that, and nobody wants to own that. That silence is killing us.”

Actor David Hyde Pierce is helping to shatter the silence, which is often associated with Alzheimer’s. The former “Frasier” star just announced he is starting a campaign against Alzheimer’s disease. Pierce revealed that two of his family members—his father and grandfather–suffer from the disease.

“It’s a disease that takes your brain apart, a piece at a time. And it doesn’t stop till it kills you,” Pierce recently told reporters.

The actor said the Alzheimer’s Association’s Champions campaign aims to recruit one American for every person with Alzheimer’s. According to the association, more than 5 million people in the U.S. live with the disease.

“All we have to do is find a way to slow it down,” Pierce said. “We’re not trying to keep people from dying. We’re trying to keep people from dying this way.”

Pierce says his goal is to not only aid those suffering from the disease but to offer support for the countless number of family members who feel that Alzheimer’s has robbed them of their loved ones.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.