NBHAAD 2019: Highlighting Impactful Organizations in the South

Each year on February 7th, we recognize National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) to promote education, testing, and prevention of HIV within Black communities across the United States. African Americans make up only 12% of the U.S. population but account for nearly 43% of new HIV infections.1 The disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS has on Black communities cannot be fully understood without addressing the structural factors that fuel the epidemic.

 

A few of these structural factors include stigma, discrimination, unequal access to healthcare, and socioeconomic issues. Many organizations throughout the Southern United States are actively working to target these disparities in Black communities through a variety of creative projects, from outreach events to policy initiatives. To find out more about some of these organizations, we talked to three of our Transformative Grant partnersBrotherhood, Inc., Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network (SPBAN), and SisterLove, Inc. – about the exciting work they’re doing to Transform the South.

 

Getting to Know These Impactful Organizations

We first talked to Andrea Joiner from Brotherhood Inc., located in New Orleans, Louisiana. Staff members at Brotherhood Inc., focus on developing and implementing programs that center around education, enlightenment, and empowerment. Reflective in their tagline— “We care when nobody else will”—they seek to remain actively engaged with their clients and in the surrounding community.

After, we had the pleasure of speaking with Venton Hill-Jones, CEO of the Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network (SPBAN), based out of Dallas, Texas. SBPAN staff members work to improve health outcomes and to reduce health disparities that impact Black communities in the South. They do this by coordinating policy and advocacy information, organizing a coalition of Black HIV leaders and advocates, and disseminating HIV-related information.

Finally, we spoke to Lisa Diane White, Deputy Director of SisterLove, located in Atlanta, Georgia. SisterLove focuses on eradicating the impact of HIV and reproductive oppressions for women and their communities. Over the past 30 years, staff members have expanded their capacity to work at the intersections of HIV and sexual reproductive justice by investigating and analyzing the social determinants of health that impact the Black community.

Structural Issues That Matter: Reducing Stigma & Myths

One of the cross-cutting structural issues these three organizations discussed is the need for stigma reduction initiatives and the debunking of common myths. All stated that stigma is largely what drives many of the harmful beliefs that persist throughout the South and in Black communities. We asked our three inspirational partners what some of these myths are and what their organizations are doing to combat these myths.

Lisa believes the three most persistent myths surrounding HIV/AIDS in the Black community are that 1) HIV is a death sentence, 2) you can tell if someone has HIV/AIDS by looking at them, and 3) only same gender loving men are affected by HIV. To combat these myths, SisterLove stresses the importance of providing continued HIV/AIDS education for both people living with HIV and for people who test negative. They provide peer educators and group prevention workshops to highlight that everyone plays a key role in HIV prevention.

As a COMPASS Initiative® Transformative Grant partner, SisterLove is currently developing a project that focuses on reducing discrimination, increasing linkages to care and improving care adherence for African American women living with HIV. The intervention is called “Everyone Has a Story,” and will be a video-based curriculum that provides education, awareness, and empowerment.

Venton believes that several of the biggest myths surrounding HIV/AIDS, especially in the Black community, include that 1) there is a cure for HIV, 2) HIV doesn’t impact Black communities like it used to, 3) people are no longer dying from HIV, 4) young people don’t care about HIV, and 5) one person or organization has all the answers to ending the epidemic.

He believes many of these myths still persist due to the lack of mobilization and organizational infrastructure to address HIV in the South. His mission for SBPAN is to create that needed infrastructure for Black communities by increasing partnerships, reducing duplication of efforts, establishing mutually agreed upon priorities, and working in sync with one another.

Andrea emphasizes the necessity to talk openly about HIV prevention and care as one of the first ways of reducing stigma. She says, “knowing [your status] is only half the battle. You can sleep with someone, but HIV doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have a tax bracket, it can affect anybody.” Andrea also believes in meeting the community where they are and connecting with them on a personal level. To do this, she helps organize monthly socials and community events, like the “Good Friday Shakedown” where they have a live DJ, giveaway prizes, vendors, and classic New Orleans cuisine!

Even though Andrea has worked hard to address the HIV epidemic in Black communities, she acknowledges that there are still challenges that arise. “I find that, especially in the Black community, HIV is used as a weapon,” Andrea says. “When I say that, I mean even the stigma around taking PrEP—you can see a million commercials about PrEP and saying that it will prevent you from getting HIV, but just because of the stigma around it being an HIV-related medication—people automatically think that since you’re taking it, you must have something going on. So even that becomes a barrier.”

Andrea explained, “If I’m hungry or I don’t have a place to sleep at night, my HIV care is going to be secondary. So, what we plan on doing is getting to the root of that.” This speaks largely to the barriers that exist for her clients in accessing care and what they can do to break these barriers down. With support from the COMPASS Initiative®, Brotherhood Inc. is working on a project that focuses on holistic health and decreasing barriers to accessing and staying in care.

The Need for Representative Leadership in the South

In order to holistically address the barriers and disparities that exist around HIV, especially in the South, effective and representative leadership was an essential need relayed by all three organizations. SBPAN stresses the importance of having leadership that is reflective of the communities they’re serving and that the work cannot be done properly without it. Venton explains, “We want community representation to be a majority of the teams we assemble to do the work. Often, community representation, particularly in this work, is extremely tokenizing—meaning you have one or two black voices and the problem is ‘solved’. How do you reverse that and make sure there is a critical mass of community voices and representation to gather the diverse range of answers that are needed?”

To do this, SPBAN has created the ‘Southern Black HIV/AIDS Network Advisory Council,’ which is a group of Black leaders from eight Southern states, Washington D.C, and from the national level. With their unique, diverse backgrounds, the Advisory Council will seek to harness the collective strengths and experiences of the group to develop key action steps to address the epidemic at every stage of prevention, policy, and advocacy. With COMPASS Initiative® support, SBPAN will be developing an Action Center to serve as the framework for their advocacy work.

Andrea concurred with these sentiments as she stressed the relatability that someone from the community has to their clients. She said, “I would be more susceptible to seeing someone who looks like me giving me information that could possibly help me because I feel like they could understand the situation I’m in. Especially if it is someone who is from my community…someone who has actually lived in the shoes I’ve lived in.”

At SisterLove, Lisa emphasizes that it is crucial that their leadership is the community they’re serving. She shares, “Our clients are a reflection of ourselves and our shared lived experiences. When we reflect the communities that we serve, we also remember why there is a need—and it becomes the bridge between us and our communities. This reflective leadership is crafted with consideration of lived experiences and an understanding of why there is a need for services where we live, work, and socialize.”

Working Toward Change: Next Steps

So, where do we go from here? Venton emphasizes that HIV in Black communities is not a monolith and that it is more than just prevention and care. “We really have to engage in this conversation much differently than we have in the past… we need to ask ourselves what’s missing for deeper penetration into Black communities so that we actually see a reduction in HIV cases in Black women and men? We need to make it clear that everyone plays a role in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic—we all exist in this together.”

In celebrating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), each of the three organizations are hosting unique events or celebrating new milestones. Brotherhood, Inc. will be holding an outreach event in a New Orleans park, SisterLove will be providing HIV/ STI testing for the Atlanta communities they serve, and SBPAN will be publicly launching their Advisory Council and Organizing to End Black HIV Now campaign. We invite you to learn more about SBPAN’s advisory council, check out their campaign video, and easily share the news on social media by visiting https://www.sbpan.org/end-black-hiv-now/.

The COMPASS Initiative® has the honor of working with these amazing organizations that are dedicated to addressing the HIV epidemic in a variety of important ways. They serve as leaders and innovators, working to provide more equitable care for their communities. Each day, they work to mobilize, inspire, and empower. However, they are not alone in their fight. These are just three of the many Black leaders working to engage their communities in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thank you to everyone who is striving to transform the South!

Are you addressing HIV in the South? Want to be featured on our blog? Send us an email at info@gileadcompass.com for your chance to be featured.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HIV and African Americans. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/racialethnic/africanamericans/index.html. Updated February 2019.

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