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Witness to History (Again): Inauguration 2013

head shot, Melissa

By Melissa Donze, Zamora Fellow, AIDS United

Six hours of freezing cold temperatures; six hours of standing in the same place, watching the sun rise over the Capitol; six hours of waiting to hear a single person speak; and it was worth every single second.

Four years ago, I drove to Washington, D.C., with some of my college friends so I could be witness to the historic inauguration of the man who renewed my hope in the collective power of individuals. Being a part of President Obama’s first inauguration is one of my most treasured memories; for the first time in my life, I was part of something bigger than myself, something that we have only begun to understand within the context of history.

Four years later, I found myself in D.C. again, this time as a resident and an advocate for people living with HIV. When the opportunity to attend President Obama’s second inauguration presented itself, I couldn’t say no; I wanted to be a part of history again. This time, the crowd looked different. It was smaller, but hopeful; enthusiastic, but resilient. The past four years had changed all of us in one way or another. I was older, and maybe a little bit wiser. I went abroad and returned home with an altered perspective of the world every time. I graduated from college and got my first taste of the “real world.”

I wasn’t the only one who had changed. President Obama was noticeably greyer this time. Realistic expectations and principles had replaced the unbridled idealism of four years ago. The most noticeable changes, however, were found in his inaugural address. While his first inaugural address was good, it was full of lofty messages and metaphorical abstractions that could have been applied to any time period. This second address, however, was grounded in our time and the struggles we face today. It was guided by the principles of our founding documents and still managed to be forward-moving and progressive. Its premise of equality, the most evident of truths, allowed him to address fair wages for women, gay marriage, voter suppression, immigration, and second amendment controversies. Although he did not directly mention HIV, his address spoke to many of the issues people living with HIV face.

As I stood there and listened to President Obama say the words “Stonewall” and “Newtown,” among many others, my eyes filled with tears. I am so proud that the President will be leading us down the path to ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans. It truly feels to me like we are now on the path to equality.

AmeriCorps Week – Team Detroit Looks To Its Roots (Part 1)

Part one of our AmeriCorps Week piece covers two former members of Team Detroit: Maxwell Cameron and Bré Campbell.

Name of Alum: Maxwell Cameron

Year served: 2009-2010

Placement:

Health Emergency Lifeline Programs (HELP)

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

While a student at the College of William and Mary, Maxwell started a group to promote HIV/AIDS prevention in rural Tanzania. When he returned home to Royal Oak, Michigan, Maxwell looked for a way to involve himself in HIV work in his community. He toured Michigan AIDS Fund (MAF) and met Terry Ryan (Team Detroit City Supervisor) who later encouraged him to join MAF’s AIDS United AmeriCorps team (Then National AIDS Fund).

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

As an AmeriCorps member at HELP, Maxwell worked in case management services for clients with HIV. He put on prevention and early intervention events and support groups. He worked to introduce clients to mental health therapy. In addition, Maxwell led HELP’s early efforts creating outreach programs to link people with HIV into care.

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

Maxwell’s favorite part of the service year was working on Team Detroit’s Long-term Project. The team put on a fashion show to raise money for AIDS service organizations in Detroit. “It about killed me and the rest of the team,” Maxwell remembers with a laugh, “But it was really rewarding to pull off such a large and successful event.” The fashion show brought in close to 100 people, and the team raised $1,100, which was split between The Horizons Project and Transgender Michigan.

One 5th Day or Service Project that you will always remember:

Maxwell’s favorite 5th Day Project was working with Habitat for Humanity painting houses in Wayne, MI. He says that it was a unique experience, and a fun project.

Is your current employment related to their year or service?

Maxwell is currently employed at HELP. During his service year, he began working to diversify HELP’s financial support through new fundraising events and grant writing. The organization realized that it would need to continue seeking new sources of funding, and as his service year was coming to a close, Maxwell was offered a full-time position to say on at HELP in a fundraising and event-planning role. He is currently working on organizing AIDS Walk Detroit.

Were you able to use the education reward?

After his service year, Maxwell enrolled in a Master’s program at the University of Windsor and was able to use his education award to pay for his studies. He will receive a Master’s in Political Science.

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since the year of service?

Maxwell continues to work with his AU sponsoring agency, now called Michigan AIDS Coalition (MAC). He has volunteered with MAC for Detroit DIFFA and the Mix, Mingle, MAC fundraising event.

One thing you would tell someone who is considering joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

Maxwell’s advice for someone considering joining AmeriCorps is to choose a program that is right for you. “There are tons of different programs that fall under the AmeriCorps umbrella,” Maxwell explains, “It’s important to seek out a service project that matches and develops one’s own interests.” He also warns against becoming too concerned with matching the hour requirements. “Service is about going above and beyond. Don’t let the hours govern your service year. Focus on getting things done.”

Describe the impact that their year of service had on them as an individual:

Maxwell says that his year with AmeriCorps imparted on him the value of service and non-profit work. Maxwell learned about the vital role of non-profits in combating health issues in the community and was inspired by the impact this work has on the lives of others. In addition, it provided him with an opportunity to develop team-building skills by planning and executing service projects with his team.

Interviewed by: Tony McClafferty (current Team Detroit Member)


Name of Alum: Bré Campbell

Year(s) Served: 2004-2005 and 2005-2006

Placement:

Ruth Ellis (first half of 2004-2005)

Horizons (second half of 2004-2005, and all of 2005-2006)

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

At the time, Bré was working a minimum wage job that was horrible, and happened to apply for a whole bunch of jobs–5 or 6– and she got the phone call back from the receptionist at Michigan Aids Fund. She explained that they were hiring, and that she should fill out an application. When she asked her what the job description was, she told me, Dont worry about it, and that I should just come in and fill out an application. Luckily, I was working not too far from the [Michigan Aids Fund] office at that time, so I went to pick up the packet the same day, the day before the packets were due. So I did my packet in one day, returned it, and got on the AmeriCorps team.

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

At Ruth Ellis, Bré was in charge of doing any type of intakes and making sure that people who were using the center signed in, and made sure that if they had any issues that needed to be resolved, whether it was counseling, HIV testing, doing laundry, or food assistance, she would help. That was her job, helping the youth. At one point in time, at Ruth Ellis, they were trying to start a mens focus group, and she helped with that. Horizons was totally different than Ruth Ellis, and she felt like she had a lot more roles and responsibilities that had to do with the whole outline of what AmeriCorps members were supposed to be doing. Bré did HIV testing and counseling, and dabbled in care services for a while, she was responsible for recruiting for one of our interventions for MSMs and did a lot of outreach. Every day they were out in schools and peoples homes in the neighborhood, doing really aggressive outreach: passing out condoms, and they would test on the spot. Like I said, it was a totally different experience than working at Ruth Ellis, it was very fast paced.

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

Definitely the Super Fifth Day in Indiana during my second year, it was so interesting to see how their team operated, and the differences between our AmeriCorps team and theirs.

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

The first year, our long-term project was at a senior citizen’s center, and it was awesome, because I’d never realized that senior citizens were actually having sex. They were really engaged, they wanted to know the information, and a lot of the older people wanted condoms, but instead of asking us for them, because we were younger than them, they tried to sneak around us. It was really cute, because they reminded me of my own grandparents. Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, my grandfather could be having sex, and he could be at risk for HIV,” so I took him some condoms and we had the whole conversation. It was really great to be at an agency and have so many years between all of us and still be able to have an understanding on one topic. There was an older lady who got up and told her story about how she became HIV positive in her sixties. Her husband had died, and she decided she was going to date someone else–she had sex with him and he gave her HIV, and I thought that was amazing. We’re so used to seeing younger people getting infected with HIV, I never thought in a million years that, when I’m sixty, HIV will be something that I will still have to worry about.

Is your current employment related to your year of service?:

Being that I had a year and a half of experience at Horizons under my belt, it wasn’t that much of a transition [after being hired by the agency]. I will say this: on Thursdays, I missed my Team Days. That was my favorite time in AmeriCorps because not only did we do really good team projects, it was a day we had to focus on other issues in the community besides HIV. I found myself every day, like, “HIV this, HIV that,” and I was like, can we start doing other volunteer work at different places? Because it wasn’t in my job description I couldn’t do it, so I started volunteering at other agencies and organizations and on boards.

Were you able to use the education reward?:

I did use it to go to Wayne State for a couple of semesters–I still have money left, so I haven’t used it all. I do plan on going back to school in the fall and using the rest of it before it expires. It was a blessing: not only did I get out of high school with so much experience, but I had money to go to school.

Have they participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service? :

Not necessarily participated in, where I did work, but the fashion show the AmeriCorps team put on two years ago, I was there, and it was awesome. Last year, we did a service project for MLK day at Cody High School in Detroit.

One Thing They Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

Try it, don’t knock it, and don’t think about it too much. I think that was my issue. When you hear HIV and you’ve never heard it before, you kind of get scared because you don’t know what that means. Take a step out on faith and try it. It’s a yearlong program, so if at the end of the year you realize you don’t like it, AmeriCorps still looks wonderful on a resume. There are so many AmeriCorps members in different positions around the country, and just having that on your resume, sometimes, can get you in the door. I know, for me, it’s been a blessing. After I got out of the program, I got an AmeriCorps Alumni Card from Bank of America, and even when I was at Target and places and I was sliding the card, people would say, “Oh you did AmeriCorps, I did too!” Even though they didn’t do it for AIDS United, they were doing it for different programs, for VISTA, for City Year, and when people see that you did AmeriCorps, they really like to talk to you. I guess they feel, “Oh, I went through this program, and it was really amazing, and I got great things from it, so you must have too!” It’s really interesting to talk to other AmeriCorps members, especially from different branches, to kind of see what their experience was like and if you can relate to it in any way, shape, or form.

Describe the impact that their year of service had on them as an individual:

AmeriCorps really raised my self esteem, on so many different levels. On a professional level and on a personal level. If I had never done AmeriCorps I would have never known how to get in contact with the people I needed to get in contact with to transition. Terry [Team Detroit's City Supervisor] was always supportive of my decision, and so were a lot of my team members. AmeriCorps really is responsible for Bré, the advocate, being here, and just being able to work, and to have contacts, and to know people who know people. People say really nice things about me to others, so I feel that AmeriCorps, for me, was awesome. Yeah, I had some rough moments in service, but I don’t think you’ll ever get to work at a place where you don’t have some type of issues. But for the most part, AmeriCorps was the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my life, the most amazing job that I’d ever had. Since I’ve been been out of AmeriCorps, I’ve been working at the agency that hired me in ever since. That was 2007, it’s 2012, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. And I know that if I decide to move to New York, Chicago, D.C., as long as I have AmeriCorps on my resume, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about as far as working in the HIV field, which is amazing. I love AmeriCorps.

Interviewed by: Emma Krasicky (Current Team Detroit member)

Want to see what the current team is up to? https://www.facebook.com/TeamDetroit Check out our Facebook page!

Contest: Name the Syringe Exchange Policy!

**Please note: this contest is no longer active**

Help us win back federal funding for syringe exchange programs by entering the contest to name the policy banning federal funds for syringe exchange!

Last December, Congress passed a policy rider on an appropriations bill that banned local communities from using federal funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). SEPs are a key tool to achieving an “HIV-free generation” and are included in President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

People across the United States are working to end the federal ban on SEPs.  The HIV, viral hepatitis, and harm reduction communities CANNOT stand idly by as politicians restrict the ways we can save lives and prevent HIV and hepatitis C infections. The fight to win back federal funding for SEPs starts now!

We need your help thinking of strong and concise messages about SEPs that will get the attention of Congress!

The Contest

AIDS United and many other groups want to come up with a name for the rider that bans the usage of federal funds for SEPs. Think of how some groups have managed to rename the estate tax the “Death Tax.”

How to Enter

Just enter your suggestions in the comment box below. We’ll receive all of the suggestions here and post the best ones for people to see. The final names will be chosen by a committee of SEP experts and will be used in advocacy and lobbying literature. The individuals that submit the best ideas will receive a prize that will fall somewhere between a congratulatory pat on the back and a new car. Note that Bob Barker does not work for AIDS United, so the prize will likely be closer to the former than the latter.

For consideration, all entries must be received by Friday, March 16th.

If you have any questions about the contest, please email Jimmy Schneidewind at jschneidewind@aidsunited.org.

SEP Background

Before giving us your suggestions, please consider the bullet points listed below which summarize some of the strongest arguments against the federal ban on funding for SEPs.

Here is the actual language of the current rider which bans the usage of federal funds for SEPs: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no funds appropriated in this Act shall be used to carry out any program of distributing sterile needles or syringes for the hypodermic injection of any illegal drug.”

This policy:

  • Cuts off access to programs providing counseling and treatment services to people who inject drugs
  • Will cost millions of dollars to treat people with HIV and hepatitis C infections that could have been prevented
  • Denies local communities the option to spend federal funds in accordance with their own local prevention plan
  • Places outdated ideology over evidence, local control, and common sense

Click here to learn more about SEPs

The Best Suggestions We’ve Received So Far (updated daily)

  1. Promoting Dirty Needles Rider
  2. Blocking Local Solutions to Fighting HIV and Hepatitis Rider
  3. HIV and Hepatitis Promotion Bill (rider)
  4. Health and Science Last Bill (rider)
  5. Dirty Needle Requirement
  6. Let ‘Em Die Rider
  7. Spreading AIDS Rider
  8. AIDS Death Rider
  9. Spreading Death Rider
  10. Death Rider
  11. Stop People from Stopping AIDS Rider
  12. The Death over LIFE Rider
  13. Clean needle ban
  14. The Anti-Science HIV and Hepatitis-Promoting Rider
  15. Pay for the Works
  16. Death by Needle Rider
  17. The Injunction of Infection through Injection
  18. Un”fit”2 exchange
  19. The Disease Spreading Bill
  20. From Addiction to Death Bill
  21. The Bill to Condemn Addicts
  22. Condemn the Vulnerable Bill
  23. Death to the Vulnerable Rider
  24. Punish the Ill Rider
  25. Condemn the Healthy Bill
  26. The Health Ban
  27. The Pro-HIV Bill
  28. The Pro-Hepatitis & HIV Bill
  29. The Punitive Bill
  30. Punish the Healthy Bill
  31. The Promote Illness Bill
  32. Pro-Death Bill
  33. Anti-Health Bill
  34. The Pro-Hepatitis Party Bill
  35. The “Hep-C for You and Me” Rider
  36. The “I love HIV and Hep C” bill
  37. AIDS Transfusion Bill
  38. The Who Cares? Rider
  39. The Ignore the Science Rider
  40. The Spread the Disease Rider
  41. HIV Deficiency Indicator Economic Rider (HIVDIE Rider)
  42. I Choose Death over Science rider
  43. We Support HIV Infection rider
  44. Stopping HIV, Except for Some of You rider
  45. Congressional Act to Promote HIV Infection
  46. Encouraging Americans to Spread HIV rider
  47. Promoting the Spread of HIV rider
  48. I Don’t Want to Stop the Spread of HIV rider
  49. BAN (Block Access to Needles)
  50. Death Penalty for Drug Use Rider
  51. Exchange Death not Needles
  52. The Morbidity & Mortality Rider
  53. The Killer Rider
  54. The Killer Bill
  55. The No Money Yes Death Rider
  56. NOSEY SAMUEL = Needles or Syringes Equal Your Safety and More Useful Elite Legislation
  57. AIDS for America rider
  58. Death exchange rider
  59. The Pale Rider
  60. Death by Condemnation
  61. The Kill Bill
  62. We Love AIDS Act
  63. Just Die Already, Drug Addicts Act
  64. AIDS Exchange Rider
  65. Clean Syringe Ban
  66. The Rider to Promote AIDS and Addiction
  67. Common Sense is Obviously Not Common Bill
  68. PASS; Politicians Against Shared Syringes
  69. The Death Panel Rider

JRI/NBGMAC Convene PrEP Training for Black Gay Men

By: Charles Stephens, AIDS United Regional Organizer

The Justice Resource Institute (JRI), in partnership with the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC), convened a two-day speakers training in mid-December for black gay men focusing on Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).  PrEP is the use of HIV medications to prevent an HIV infection.  The goal of the training was to create a network of black gay male leaders that will speak about PrEP in their communities and enhance the awareness and engagement of black gay men around PrEP.  I had the opportunity to participate in the training, which included participants representing a range of professional experiences, disciplines, ages, approaches to HIV prevention, and geographic locations.

The training included rigorous discussions about research ethics, barriers to implementing PrEP, the importance of research literacy, and cultural humility in connecting high-risk populations to PrEP.  Participants learned how to address community concerns, develop effective messaging, and talk about scientific terminology. Each of us had the opportunity to give mock presentations about PrEP.

We also learned more about iPrEx, which was the study that indicated the effectiveness of PrEP for men who have sex with men (MSM).  Robert Grant, who was the protocol chair for the iPrEx study, was also one of the presenters. We took the opportunity to ask him questions, and get his perspective on the development and execution of the study, in addition to learning more of his insights about PrEP.

As next steps, we were encouraged coordinate trainings in our respective communities for black gay men around PrEP. For some of us, this will also include educating our staff and colleagues to more effectively and strategically target our efforts to have the greatest possible impact. This training — and other similar activities — gives us a way forward in having greater parity not only in access, but also information.

Deficit Reduction Committee Unable to Reach Agreement, but Impasse Is Not Necessarily Failure

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, widely known as the “super committee,” was unable to reach an agreement on a plan to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.  The 12-member committee was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and charged with developing such a proposal.  The BCA mandates that if neither super committee nor Congress is able to reach an agreement, then automatic spending cuts will be enacted to meet the minimum goal of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

The notion of “failure” has been bandied about heavily in the public commentary about the super committee’s impasse. AIDS United does not see the committee’s work as failure.  We commend those committee members who stood firm against accepting draconian spending cuts and against proposals that essentially would have gutted Medicaid and Medicare.  We applaud those members who insisted that an agreement needed to be fair and balanced and include meaningful revenue growth and expecting the wealthiest people in the country to share in the sacrifice needed to make a sizable reduction in the federal deficit.  We are grateful for the strong advocacy that called for protecting health care and safety net programs serving vulnerable populations.  Protecting the vast majority of people living in America, including people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases, is not “failure.”  It is what the Constitution calls promoting the “general Welfare.”

There is no question that the automatic spending cuts that will now be triggered, on top of the nearly $1 trillion in cuts already enacted under the BCA and cuts made in Fiscal Year 2011, will hurt.  The BCA itself was the result of a misguided yearlong focus on deficit reduction rather than on job growth and further efforts to stimulate the economy.  This distraction has been harmful.  It is never good to have to choose between “a rock and a hard place,” but in the closing days of the super committee’s deliberations, it became clear to many health care and social justice advocates that no deal was better than a bad deal.

The automatic cuts that will go into effect starting in January 2013 will now come under increased attention.  The law says that 50% of the cuts must be from the “national defense” area.  Even while the super committee was still trying to reach an agreement, some senators spoke about changing the law to protect military and defense spending.  Doing so would shift all deficit reduction efforts to non-defense spending, which includes spending on health care measures and the majority of spending for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and research programs.  For that reason, AIDS United calls on everyone to oppose provisions that would exempt defense spending from the automatic cuts or lessen the severity of defense cuts without similar protections for non-defense spending.   AIDS United continues to call for balanced revenue measures that would reduce the need for spending cuts generally.

Again, let’s move on from the chatter about the super committee being a failure.  Let’s focus on real policy change that protects vital, life saving programs and achieves a balanced approach that shifts the focus to growing jobs and reviving the economy.  That’s the better financial approach needed to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America.

PDUFA: Funny Name; Vital Program

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, AIDS United

Today, October 24, 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public meeting to discuss proposed recommendations for reauthorizing PDUFA, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.  For many people, PDUFA may be just another funny, “government-speak” acronym but it is in fact a vital initiative in disease treatment that has impacted thousands of lives and was achieved with the strong support of AIDS advocates.

In 1992, Congress passed PDUFA to streamline the drug approval review process and make it more timely and predictable. Under PDUFA, user fees are collected from pharmaceutical companies that apply for approval of new drugs and companies that apply for biologics license. The fees are used strictly to enhance and support FDA’s drug and biologics review process.  The fees supplement and do not supplant FDA funding from the annual appropriation process.  The law also mandates FDA to set a standard goal of reviewing new drug applications within 10 months and a priority review goal of six months.

For Americans living with serious or chronic diseases and disabilities, new treatments can’t come fast enough. As a person living with HIV/AIDS, I’ve certainly benefited from FDA approval of new drugs that have improved HIV treatment regimens dramatically.  Many thousands of people like me are alive and healthy because of treatment advances.  Prior to PDUFA, the FDA’s review process for new drugs was slow compared with other countries.  AIDS activism in the late 1980s, including large protest demonstrations organized by ACT-UP, brought increased attention to the lengthy review process and its impact on delaying approval of medications that could be used to fight HIV and the opportunistic infections that then were responsible for the preponderance of AIDS-related deaths.  PDUFA enactment allowed the FDA to have the funds needed to hire additional reviewers and support staff and to upgrade its information technology systems.  FDA committed to complete reviews in a predictable timeframe.

PDUFA has been reauthorized three times since its original adoption.  The current 5-year period, PDUFA IV, ends September 2012.  The user fees account for about two-thirds of the FDA’s budget for new drugs and biologics review.

PDUFA has improved the new drug approval process significantly, enabling FDA to speed up the review process without compromising high standards for safety, efficacy, and quality of new drugs prior to approval.  This has allowed faster patient access to new drugs and biologics and has enabled the U.S. to be a world leader in introducing new drugs.  In testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health this past July, Dr. Janet Woodcock, who heads the FDA’s drug review unit, noted that the public has gained faster access to over 1,500 new drugs and biologics since 1992.  The U.S. now leads the world in the initial introduction of new drugs.

Following negotiations with industry and consultations with public stakeholders, FDA issued recommendations for reauthorizing PDUFA for another 5-year period, through FY 2017.  FDA’s recommendations for PDUFA V address concerns and priorities raised by industry and stakeholders, including consumers and include three proposals that were specifically advocated for by patients.  The recommendations include a proposed new review model intended to improve communication between the FDA review team and the applying drug sponsor and to improve the effectiveness of the first cycle review process so as to decrease the number of review cycles needed to review a drug and thus to speed up patients’ access to safe, effective and high quality new drugs and biologics.  This would reverse a creeping increase in review times over the past few years that has compromised FDA’s performance goals.

An important feature of the recommendations is an increase in the user fee revenue to $693 million in FY 2013.  In a time when federal appropriations are being cut and facing even more devastating cuts, the funding stability that PDUFA provides is critical.

Scientific advances over the past 18 months in HIV vaccine research, microbicide research, pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection, and HIV treatment as prevention underscore the need not only for maintaining a robust research and development process but also for maintain a process for timely, efficient review of new drugs.  Once the recommendations for reauthorization are submitted to Congress sometime early in 2012, both houses should move forward quickly towards a clean reauthorization before the September expiration.  AIDS United strongly supports reauthorizing PDUFA and will stay engaged to insure the continuation of this vital program with the funny name.