A Conversation with Latino Commission on AIDS

It’s part two of our #inspo! (check out part one here) To help those applying for the 2020 Transformative Grant, we wanted to speak with some of our current Transformative Grant Partners and get an update on how their projects are coming along plus see what tips they can provide current applicants for writing the perfect proposal. Today we spoke with of Judith Montenegro Latino Commission on AIDS. See the brief video and read the full transcript below.

Please tell us a little bit about your organization and what your organization does. 

Judith Montenegro (JM): The Latino Commission on AIDS was an organization that was founded in 1990. It works to improve and advocate for people living with HIV and works to end the HIV epidemic in the Latinx community. The program that I work for is the Latinos in the South and we’ve worked in the Southeast since 2007, so we have been here for quite some time. We’ve been doing regional work, mobilization, leadership development and capacity building in the South since then.

Please tell us a little bit about your Transformative Grant Project.

JM: Our Transformative Grant project came out of some of the capacity building that we were providing here in the South. Through a separate grant we were providing micro-grants to organizations that were grassroots and starting to apply for their 501c3 status, or looking for fiscal agents many of which were serving the LGBT LatinX communities here in the South. At the time when we started, there was only one program and one organization that was LatinX led and working to provide services, just basic services, to the LGBT LatinX community. The southeast has a real lack of executive directors that are LatinX, that are leading either AIDS service organizations or community-based organizations, working with the LatinX community.

Through this Transformative Grant and the work that we were already been doing, we saw that there was a real need for us to be able to come together and share space and share about what we were doing here in the South and what our work and what the environment looks like for the things that we are trying to accomplish in terms of impacting healthcare access, in terms of fighting some of this political climate that is often xenophobic, transphobic, anti-immigrant and that impacts people of color throughout the South. So our Transformative Grant really was an opportunity for us to make a dream come true to bring LGBT LatinX community members into one space and have an opportunity to reconstruct what we believe the South should look like.

How has the Transformative Grant process helped build your organization’s capacity so far?

JM: So because we are a national organization the investment that we’ve made in the southeast has been growing since we started working here in 2007. We were able through this grant to hire a consultant who will now, based on our work relationship, will now come on board full time to join the Latino Commission on AIDS as a Capacity Building Specialist and so that has been really great. So he will be a part of all of this work, meet everyone and then a few days later will roll into a new position and roll with us here in the South to provide capacity building to all of the partners and really understanding what those needs are. In one sense we were able to build new relationships through this person who is directing all of our Encuentro (gathering), but also he is here really to listen to what is happening here the South and have his ear to the ground as to what agencies are looking for and what some of these grassroots groups within and out of the 501c3 structure are really building here in the South and looking for ways for us to plug in. 

So in a sense, this had also been part of an assessment that we have been doing, but it has also improved the way that we reconnect with partners, oftentimes it’s difficult when we have relationships that are always virtual.  So sometimes it’s really nice to hug and see someone that we haven’t spoken to in a long time. There has been a lot of turnover here in the South, so this has allowed us to meet a lot of new individuals that are working in this landscape that we didn’t know about. So an opportunity to support them to come here and meet with others has been really great.

In addition to our capacity for the commission, we have never done a convening of this size here in the South. So I think this is a really new experience for us in terms of what other investments we need to be making in terms of infrastructure for our team, and infrastructure as far as some of the organizations that we work with. So all of that has been a way for us to open new possibilities for the coming years and sort of think about what’s next for us and our partners in the South.

What is the biggest success of your project so far?

JM: I think the biggest success so far, and we are talking on the eve of our Encuentro, has been being able to support as many people as we have to come. So we have over 100 people registered and people are still trying to register for this. We were able to support everyone who applied for support to come.

We decided to do it in a way where we wanted folks to have individual room, we didn’t want to do roommate situations. I think a lot of times when we do grassroots work or this type of convening sometimes folks are required to stay with roommates and part of what we believe, self-care, is having time to decompress and have space that is your own while you are away because there are a lot of things that we are going to be talking about and we really wanted folks to have an opportunity to rest and enjoy Atlanta, so we are hoping that folks take advantage of where we are and the public transportation that is able.

The success has been so far being able to create this space and make it look the way we want to. We provided a training on cultural sensitivity around LGBT LatinX issues to the hotel, so all of their staff were trained around pronoun use, around what is required for us in terms of building a safe space and how we want to make sure that in any situation we’re able to de-escalate and make sure people feel safe and comfortable here.

What advice would you offer to other organizations that are applying for the Transformative Grant next year?

JM: I think for us we talked about doing something like this for a few years. How are we going to meet everyone? How are we going to be able to bring everyone together? In the past we would fly 6-8 people to our conference in Albany, through the Latino Commission on AIDS, however, the topics that they would share at Reunion are really northeastern focused. There were some national conversations, but there was nothing with that southern charm that the South has and so being able to do something here in the South was really important for us, especially with the change in demographics. So it was really sort of a dream project for us to be able to do this and when we saw that there was an opportunity through a Transformative Grant to transform the South, and bring people who may have never come together otherwise, we were really excited to be able to host that and then provide an opportunity for our partners to piggyback off of our work and our planning and then have a statewide meeting, which I think is also really important.

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