Browsing Category: HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Make a Difference Day in Detroit!

Every year on the fourth Saturday in October, the nation’s single largest day of community service takes place, inspiring people nationwide to help improve the lives of others through a day of service. On October 26th, 2013, AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit chose to answer Make a Difference Day’s call to service by volunteering with Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) was founded in 1909, and is charged with the task of providing food, shelter and addiction recovery services to those impacted by homelessness and substance abuse. On average, the DRMM touches the lives of more than 1,400 men, women and children daily.

team detroit

For Team Detroit’s day of service, we served at DRMM’s Oasis house which provides emergency, transitional and permanent shelter to homeless men in the Detroit community. As the shelter provides three meals a day for shelter residents, preparation of these meals is no easy task. With that, Team Detroit was able to lend a hand both with preparing and serving the midday meal. We first helped by prepping a wide variety of cakes and pies to be served as dessert with the meal, and then were able to help prepare the main event, homemade pizzas. We had a pretty great assembly line going for this task, with Rose handling the sauce, myself handling the cheese, and Grace and Kamran handling the toppings. With the assistance and guidance of the kitchen staff, we had lunch ready to go in record time.


Team Detroit was responsible for serving the lunch to residents, with Rose, Grace and myself preparing the plates, Jerome on dessert detail and Kamran in charge of cutting the pizzas hot and fresh from the oven. The kitchen staff was intentional in considering those who do not eat pork or those who may be vegetarians in preparing the meal. Getting to interact with residents as they came through the line was an interesting experience for the team as a whole, with Team Detroit AmeriCorps Member Jerome describing the experience as humbling. Most of us were able to identify someone in the group that appeared to be a similar age as ourselves, which definitely had an impact on each of us. Additionally, while the kitchen staff goes to great lengths to provide meals that will appeal to most, as a team, we felt that it must be difficult for shelter residents to have someone or something determine what they will eat and how much. Homelessness is certainly an area of concern for the city of Detroit, as thousands of homeless individuals can be found on the streets of Detroit on any given night. While this project did not directly solve the problems related to homelessness in the city, it did allow us to serve a small portion of this population, and inspired each of us to consider the current state of need in Detroit.

team detroit

One of the things I think I most appreciated about this experience was the opportunity to see a different side of the homeless epidemic in Detroit. In my work at my agency, I do weekly prevention outreach shifts in the city in an effort to connect with commercial sex workers, many of whom are often homeless. Our Make a Difference Day project allowed me to see that the issues facing the city in regards to homelessness are complex and quite varied, spanning across men, women, and children of all ages and races. Additionally, volunteering alongside the DRMM staff was a pleasure, as they were all so grateful and appreciative of our service. The care and concern that the staff had for the residents shined through their work, and enabled AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit to have both a positive and enlightening day of service.

357 days to go until Make a Difference Day 2014!

“Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.” ~Unknown


Team NOLA goes MADD

Team NOLA goes MADD? You may think 1) I don’t know how to spell “Mad” or 2) the AIDS United AmeriCorps Team New Orleans is actually going crazy. I promise neither are true. MADD stands for “Make a Difference Day,” a National Day of Service that took place on October 26.  On this year’s MADD, AIDS United Team NOLA set out to do some good ole soup kitchen volunteering.

Except this isn’t just any other soup kitchen. Food for Friends (FFF) is an outstanding food delivery service, delivering meals to home-bound folks who are affected by HIV in the New Orleans area- and soon Baton Rouge!  Although FFF has been around for over 14 years, its site was lost during Hurricane Katrina, leading the organization to run out of a temporary location for several years. Just recently it moved to a brand spankin’ new kitchen, with plans to expand its services to other cities in Louisiana and even to cancer patients who are unable to cook for themselves.


Our duties for the day started with packing and sealing the “dry good” breakfast. Each breakfast had 7 nonperishable items in it- all yummy and nutritious!  Jeremy, Louis, Rebecca and Morgan had a nice assembly line going while I managed the sealing machine (by the far the coolest machine I’ve ever played with). After all the meals were put in dry storage, we moved on to helping with the hot meals. Some of us scooped, some of us stacked, some of us sealed. We discovered Team NOLA’s hidden talent: assembly lines.

giving-food-webHoucine Harrabi, FFF’s fantastic and eccentric chef,  explained each part of the meal to us. He strives to make his meals healthy and delicious – which can be hard to do when making food for so many people. He even let us try out the meals because as he says- “I wouldn’t give any of our clients food I wouldn’t eat myself.” And let me tell you- IT WAS DELICIOUS. Shrimp pasta, spiced cauliflower, a yummy sauce (you can probably tell I don’t know anything about cooking). Our taste buds were very happy. Plus, Houcine has jazz blasting in his kitchen at all times. He is not only a master chef, but an unreal dancer and musician. The guy can do it all!

After sampling the hot meal for the day, we finished sealing and labeling all the meals. They ended up looking a little something like this:


Food for Friends serves about 50 clients right now, but will continue to expand in several ways. Glen Kahrman, the program manager, explained to us how the current program works and how he wants to make it even better. Right now, food is delivered to clients Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. There is also a food pantry clients can access when needed. Listening to both Glen and Houcine talk about their work made me truly thankful we have such humble, devoted people in this line of work.

This is such an important service in our community. Remembering to take medications, dealing with side effects, going to work, picking the kids up from school, trying to squeeze in some physical activity- yeah, having a warm, healthy meal waiting for you would be a nice relief. It’s another thing those affected by HIV don’ have to worry about.

Overall, our team really enjoyed our day with Food for Friends. I know I am extremely impressed with the quality of food and services provided to the clients- and I have volunteered in several soup kitchens in my life (pretty sure my mom was determined to volunteer at every soup kitchen in the state during my reluctant teenage years). This is a valuable organization that is serving our community the best it can. I sincerely cannot wait to see how it grows in the coming years.Team NOLA will continue to volunteer with FFF in the coming months- we even get to help them make pies for Thanksgiving!

teamnola-webTo end with a cheesy but true statement- everyday should be thought of as “Make a Difference Day”. Go MADD, give back, learn about your community.





It’s Not a Past-time, It’s a Duty

kenny_palmer_webby Kenny Palmer,  AIDS United Public Policy Assistant

I find it rather fitting that National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day coincides with the end of my first week with AIDS United. This first week has really opened my eyes to the vast amount of individuals around the country who have dedicated their lives to defeating to this disease, and also to the great amount of work that remains to be done. The battle against HIV/AIDS is one in which I have a personal stake. As an African American and a gay male, I belong to two communities that are disproportionately affected by this disease. For me, combating this disease is not a past-time, it’s a duty.

I grew up in South Carolina and attended undergrad at Furman University. During my academic career, I undertook several internships and fellowships. It was during this time that I began my first Congressional internship in Washington, DC. Working on the Hill allowed me to observe the legislative process first hand, but it was living in DC that really opened my eyes to several issues that existed within the LGBT community; issues that I’d never been fully exposed to while living in the South. Sure I knew about the vast discrimination that existed, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be more active in both the LGBT community and the African-American community.

I look forward to working with the team at AIDS United to meet those individuals who are on the front lines of this battle and personally know the needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in their perspective areas. The opportunity to meet such icons as AU President/CEO President Michael Kaplan, Rep. Barbara Lee and others still has me star-struck. Furthermore, the chance to become extremely knowledgeable in healthcare and budgetary policy really excites me. I hope to accomplish a lot during my time here but above all, I would like to see a firm partnership emerge between the African-American and LGBT community, especially in the battle against HIV/AIDS.



Blueprints for Resilience: Young Black Gay Men, HIV, and the Future

By Charles Stephens, AIDS United Southern Regional Organizer

“I will be heard,” shouted the black gay writer and activist Craig Harris at the 1986 American Public Health Association meeting. He was 28, and a few
months prior coordinated the first ever National Conference on AIDS in the black community. Attending the American Public Health Association’s first ever
session on AIDS, and noticing that no one of color was invited to participate, he stormed the stage and took the microphone from Dr. Merv Silverman, then the San Francisco health commissioner. After commanding the attention of the room, he began to explain the challenges of AIDS in communities of color. Though this happened over 25 years ago, young black gay men are still fighting to have their voices heard, as they continue to be the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.


The impact of HIV on black gay men,and young black gay men in particular, is sobering. According to the CDC, in 2010, more new HIV infections occurred among young black gay/MSM than any other age or racial group of MSM. Despite these challenges, there is a way forward. A path is gradually clearing. We now see steps to take that can decrease the number of new infections among young black gay men. Perhaps a decade ago this might have been seen as somewhat utopian, but now it’s more in the realm of possibility than ever.

A blueprint has been forth both by scientific leaders, community stakeholders and policy advocates. These are action steps that have proven efficacy and point the way to reducing HIV rates. Strategies include: Ensuring that HIV testing is available and accessible, robust male and female condom distribution, ensuring that HIV positive people are connected to their HIV status and placed on treatment, expanding Medicaid to those who are economically distressed and need access to quality health care, and making PrEP available to HIV negative people who may not be able to or choose not to use condoms regularly. These are critical steps to take and would bring us closer to ending the epidemic. I would also like to offer the following additional strategies we should

Institutional Stigma
It is not enough to target HIV and anti-gay stigma as structural issues alone. We need to hone in and target with absolute precision the specific institutions and organizations that reproduce stigma. Campaigns should be more focused on specific institutions, organizations, and associations, and channel those messages into the culture of those entities. For example, we might target barbershops in a local community to challenge anti-gay stigma, and partner together to create a more affirming experience for black gay men in barbershops.

We also need to better understand from a research perspective, institutions that have shown ability to inspire protective factors in black gay men, and how to replicate, scale, and program those protective factors.

Social Entrepreneurship
We should find ways to develop campaigns and promotions that encourage young black gay men to offer ideas and innovations. Though it’s imperative to continually develop and cultivate black gay men that can enter the HIV/AIDS and healthcare workforce, we should also identify ways to support them in leading them too. Social media has democratized information in a way that makes it possible to more efficiently and cheaply disseminate information, and also provides a vehicle for increasing the culture of social entrepreneurship among black gay men, and expanding the ranks of thought leaders in the field.

Leadership Pipelines
We must be deliberate and intentional about training the next generation of senior and executive leaders in HIV/AIDS, and particularly work to ensure continued diversity in HIV/AIDS leadership. Though I recognize that HIV/AIDS leadership might look different in the post-Affordable Care Act reality, we will still need to have leadership in HIV/AIDS and LGBT movements from diverse communities. We should be intentional about mentoring programs, executive training, and coaching to prepare young black gay men to take on some of those roles.

Intergenerational Dialogue
There must be intergenerational dialogues between younger and older black gay men. We must create spaces where stories are shared and wisdom can be passed on. This does not assume that young black gay men are lacking in insight and perspective. But we must pass on the experience of the generation of black gay men that survived the 80s, and their beautiful and heartbreaking stories — stories of courage and resilience. Those stories of Craig Harris, Reggie Williams, Marlon Riggs, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, Charles Angel, and others. It’s not enough to talk about resilience in the present, without looking at the stunning brilliance and strength of those who came before us and that left the blueprint — our own kind of “profiles in courage for black gay men.” There were black gay men, often young black gay men, in the 1980s on the frontlines of HIV activism. We need these stories because a culture is most resilient when it’s able to pass it stories down across generations. And though many of the greatest answers in how to grapple with HIV/AIDS will come from Public Health, not all of them will, and thus, we must look to our stories, our cultural traditions, our collective memory, to offer if not the answers, at least the language to begin to pose better questions.

The impact of HIV among young black gay men has caused suffering. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean being powerless, and have your choices structured based on your social location does not suggest you have no human agency. As we think about the way forward on National HIV/AIDS Youth Awareness Day it’s important to keep importance to imagine the challenge from as many angles as possible. It’s also important to continue to dare to be as innovative as possible and to remember, that we are most resilient through the preservation of our culture.

Charles Stephens is the Southern Regional Organizer for AIDS United

NWGHAAD: A Call to Action for Women and Girls

By Elizabeth Brosnan, Executive Director
Christie’s Place
San Diego, CA

National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is perhaps the single most important day for organizations of, by and for HIV-positive women in the United States. The goal of NWGHAAD is to raise awareness about the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls and to encourage them to take action. Over the past eight years NWGHAAD has raised much needed domestic visibility about the epidemic’s impact on women and girls and has been a call to action for women to mobilize, get tested and know their status. This message is very close to our heart at Christie’s Place. NWGHAAD gives us a platform to share the actions we’ve taken, the struggles and the successes as well as lift up the voices and needs of HIV-positive women. And NWGHAAD is a time of remembrance for the sisters we’ve lost in this fight.

Christie’s Place is dedicated to the memory of Christie Milton-Torres who at age 30 passed away from AIDS complications in 1994. Christie dreamed that one day there would be a haven for women and families living with HIV/AIDS. At a time when very few women were speaking out about their experiences with HIV, Christie became a spokesperson and advocated for the needs of families. She was a tireless advocate with a vision to have a center for women and families to go to get support and care. What for her and her family was once only a dream, a hope . . . is now reality for the hundreds of women and families Christie’s Place serves each year.

April will mark seventeen years since Christie’s mother Irene made her dream a reality by founding Christie’s Place. What started as a small grassroots organization has grown into a full service social service agency guided by its mission, one woman’s vision and a mother’s determination. As NWGHAAD approaches, I think of what Christie and her mother fought for frequently. I often wonder if I personally am doing right by her legacy and if she would think we are doing enough. One of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela is – “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” When we started CHANGE for Women, it was my hope that we could accomplish great things, even if they seemed impossible. While we are far from done, today I know that Christie would be proud of our achievements . . . achievements that once seemed impossible.

At Christie’s Place we have been fighting to make sure that women’s voices are included in the national and local HIV discourse and have worked to strengthen the position of HIV-positive women in service and treatment policy decisions that impact their lives. Like Christie, our goal has been to ensure that HIV-positive women have a voice in decisions that directly affect their lives, be represented and valued at all decision making levels, and have equal access to resources and services that address all of their needs.

Christie’s Place is an AIDS United grantee


Aware Enough

Diedraby Diedra J. Levi, CEO, Living Affected Corporation

As a Black person, I can tell you that an awareness day is rhetorical because we are aware. We simply haven’t had enough. We haven’t had enough of dying when we don’t have to. We haven’t had enough funerals. We haven’t had enough of seeing someone darken and waste away. We are aware. We are aware that Black gay men are more at risk. We are aware that Black gay men are more likely to be infected. We are aware that Black gay men are more likely to not get the proper treatment and die from this disease. We are aware that Black women are 20 times more likely to become infected with HIV than White women. We simply haven’t had enough.

I am aware that the right person hasn’t been infected and stood up to say that I have HIV. I am aware that the conspiracy theories are still rampant in my community and most think that Magic Johnson was able to afford a cure. I am aware that there is no cure. I am aware and can call names of people who eat a nutritious diet and ingest special herbal treatments to keep the effects of HIV at bay. I’m aware that that’s not enough. I’m aware that the treatment now can bring you back from the brink of death once you have had enough. But we haven’t had enough.

In Arkansas, we still have a death a month of some young gay male less than 30 years of age from a disease they didn’t have to die from so young. Are people aware that poverty and homelessness are more than likely a part of the journey for this young man? Are you aware that if you go up under the bridges of Little Rock that you would find that about 40% of these homeless people are gay? Are we aware that parents beg for a mental diagnosis from a psychiatrist instead of accepting that their child is simply gay? Are we aware that one of the most popular ministers here will dunk a child under the cold waters of baptism to try to wash
away that homosexual demon (that the child might not be aware of) out of them? Yes, I believe we are aware but I don’t believe we have had enough.

I’m aware that if the Atlanta housewife, NeNe, said to take your medication if you have HIV, then we might get some results. I believe if, while on American Idol, Nicki Minaj says to take your medication for your HIV, we might get some results. I even believe that if, from the pulpit, preachers preached love, we might have some results. But they don’t which translates to we haven’t had enough.
When it comes to Black people, I know that when we have had enough, we move and shake mountains. Rosa Parks had had enough. Harriet Tubman had had enough. Colin Powell had had enough. When Rodney King was beaten, we had had enough. But for Black folks and dying from or baring half the burden of HIV/AIDS we haven’t had enough. There is no fight, no riot, and no march. There is the perpetuation of shame, guilt and isolation.

I would like to see Legislators fighting for a chance to speak at a National Black HIV Awareness Day. Each representative will want to tell about how they fought for housing, education, food, treatment and employment that the lack thereof was a trajectory to HIV/AIDS. Senators will tell their stories of how they fought for HIV decriminalization, syringe exchanges, HIV prevention, vaccine and cure funding. National Black HIV Awareness Day should not be a continuation of a festival of free t-shirts and wristbands which is usually attended by those that are well aware. We need to be passionate enough because we have had enough and go door to door spreading the word that the end of AIDS is near. When we find that the masses of those most impacted are aware and they have had enough; maybe National Black HIV Awareness Day will be a celebration of change.
logo - Living Affected Corp


Living Affected Corporation is a grantee of AIDS United’s Southern REACH initiative