State Senator Vincent Hughes represents a Philadelphia rarely seen in Hollywood, a Philadelphia ravaged by the realities of HIV and AIDS. The youth of the city of brotherly love are especially affected, but their voice to the rest of the world has a message of hope: “We can have victory over this disease.”
Call it a new mentality, one that this hero in the struggle hopes becomes quite infectious.
“It has to be understood that this is a situation that doesn’t have to be,” says Senator Hughes, who represents Philly’s 7th District. “We need to change the conversation surrounding HIV to a conversation about stopping the growth of AIDS and stopping this disease from stopping Black people.”
Senator Hughes has spearheaded efforts on several fronts, including public outreach, forums and town meetings that encourage education and testing. The city has partnered with the Black AIDS Institute and others in innovative ways, offering concert tickets to folks who get tested, if that’s what it takes.
“Most young people have not gotten the message,” says Senator Hughes. “They’re still trying to figure out how to deal with sexual activity. There’s still a superman and superwoman mentality around HIV, like, ‘it can’t happen to me.’ We’ve got to make sure they know you’ve got to wrap it up.”
In 2004, as part of his ongoing efforts, the senator announced a million-dollar increase in funding for HIV prevention and education for the minority population in Philadelphia County—the largest one-time increase in HIV funding in the history of the state. The funds support aggressive programs that generate an awareness of the disease, focusing specifically on education, prevention and testing.
“This is a very important issue in our community,” says Senator Hughes. “Statistics have shown a disproportionately large increase in the number of African Americans infected with HIV and AIDS. The importance of this funding is to generate an increased awareness, within the community, about this disease through education, testing and teaching folks—young and old—how to protect themselves.”
Vincent Hughes won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives at the age of 30 by defeating a veteran incumbent. He quickly established a reputation for dynamic action and a track record of solid achievement and effective constituent service. By the beginning of his third term, he was elected to serve as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, a post he held from January 1991 to December 1994. In that position, he convened the first meeting and conference of Pennsylvania’s Black elected officials, led the caucus’s redistricting efforts that succeeded in creating a second congressional district in Pennsylvania with a majority of minority residents, and secured $36 million in capital improvement funding for Cheyney University.
In 1994, State Representative Hughes became State Senator Hughes when he won the 7th District seat in a special election, continuing the same record for action and innovation in the Senate that he accomplished in the House. He introduced a bill to establish a jobs program to create 10,000 jobs for welfare recipients. He followed it with a bill creating the Pennsylvania Health Care Trust, a program designed to expand the existing Children’s Health Insurance Program and form an adult version that would provide affordable health insurance to Pennsylvania residents not covered by their employer or existing government programs. Senator Hughes also introduced PennSTAR, the Pennsylvania State of the Arts Schools Program, to fund the renovation of deteriorated schools, as well as new school construction throughout the commonwealth.
Senator Hughes’ activities, however, extend far beyond the legislative arena. He founded the James Hughes Memorial Scholarship Fund and Golf Classic to honor his father’s legacy as an advocate for higher education by providing scholarships to deserving students. To date, the fund has raised nearly $1 million to provide scholarships to over 90 students. A strong proponent of education,
Senator Hughes hosted Show Me the Money: The Road Map to Financial Aid for College and the annual United Negro College Fund Viewing Party in an effort to assist students with financial aid for college. Additionally, he has sponsored an annual adult job fair and two mental health conferences, Breaking The Silence—attended by more than 1200 people—and the Pledge to Excellence Youth Conference, providing workshops and resources on health, education, cultural and athletic programs for the youth of Philadelphia. To acknowledge corporate and community leaders in his district, Senator Hughes hosts an annual celebration, the Report To The People & Recognition Awards Ceremony.
Senator Hughes serves as the Democratic Chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. He is also a member of the Appropriations, Education, Policy and most recently, Deputy Whip.
Ahead, the senator sees the challenge of HIV/AIDS being met head-on. His attitude resonates with confidence in the Black community’s ability to overcome the pandemic.
“This is a disease of behavior,” says Senator Hughes. “We intend to ramp-up education and services and try to get things done that have never been done in any major city in the country. We need to focus in on our young people and reach out aggressively in all kinds of different ways.”
The senator cites rapid response HIV testing as just one difference to be made, citing the fact that 40% of those tested don’t follow up and get their results, which can take up to a week. With rapid response, a 40 minute wait could significantly reduce the number of those who don’t obtain their results…just one of many ways Senator Vincent Hughes is thinking progressively and proactively when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
“We gotta understand we can win on this issue,” says Senator Hughes. “We don’t need to be going out on this. Let’s stand up and say we can win.”