Jones helps Ernestine Parker sign up for benefits at a Social Security office in Wilton Manors. He spends his days visiting clients and trying to get others to seek the help they need. (Sun-Sentinel/Mike Stocker)

Day after day, HIV tears through the black community. It's now the No. 1 killer of black men and women in their prime.


He dares to speak out to those who don't want to hear.

James Jones carries the virus, and he's still alive.

So did a lot of friends, and they are not.

Cynthia, an AIDS outreach worker.

Karen, a mother who'll never see her daughter grow up.

Mattie, a client who couldn't shake her drug habit.

Jones understands, better than most, that HIV stalks the black community. Indeed, an estimated one out of every 46 black people in Florida carries the virus.

But Jones is lucky and he knows it. Within an hour of learning he was infected, he told his parents and 9 brothers and sisters, who opened their arms and hearts. They, too, understand the hold the virus has on those close to them.

For others, it's not so easy.

In a community where the church rules, the virus is linked to unholy acts and complicated by soul-crushing social ills: poverty, racism, discrimination.

Jones knows what people are up against. He's an HIV care coordinator for the Creating Positive Change Foundation, a Fort Lauderdale HIV/AIDS agency that targets minority communities.

From his vantage point, Jones has seen it all.

He understands that many are too fearful to get tested or confront their partners.

That some black women, lamenting a small dating pool of eligible black men, won't insist on condoms.

That homophobia runs wide and deep in the community because men fear losing their job, damaging their reputation or even physical retaliation.

That some men have sex with men, get infected, then pass the virus on to unsuspecting girlfriends and wives.

That some ignore their illness and continue spreading the virus.