By April Eugene
Correction: In an earlier version of the newsletter, we too got confused by the three Gina Browns who work in HIV and used a photo of the wrong one. We apologize for our error!
In a continuing effort to eliminate the AIDS pandemic in Black communities, the Black AIDS Institute has added community organizer Gina Brown to its board of directors. Brown’s ability to connect with the community, especially Black women, makes her a perfect fit with the Institute’s next generation of capacity building, advocacy, mobilization and service delivery.
The New Orleans native has been actively involved in HIV-related issues since being diagnosed with the virus 23 years ago—first by speaking up for better conditions for herself and other women at her local HIV clinic. Since then she has returned to school to obtain her GED as well as her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and held various positions within the HIV field, currently as community organizer for the Southern AIDS Coalition. As a member of the Institute’s board, Brown will be instrumental in helping to develop programs aimed at Black women.
“I bring the perspective of what’s going on with women who are living with HIV. The majority are in the South and they are women of color,” says Brown. “A lot of women come to me for counsel, so I know what women are seeking. They’re unemployed or underemployed. They’re not looking for handouts; they’re looking for a hand up.”
Brown considers herself a foot soldier in the movement to end AIDS and will bring the voice of women living with HIV/AIDS to the boardroom. “I think Phill [Wilson] wanted somebody who’s still on the ground, who still has that street credibility, who people come and talk to and can be heard,” she adds.
Brown has always been a champion of paying it forward and speaks of her ability to develop other activists by not forgetting where she came from.
“First of all, I lead by example. It’s easier for me to develop other people because I remember how it felt when I didn’t know,” she says. “There were people who took me under their wing, so I try to give that back. I didn’t just go from point A to point B; there were some stops along the way. And I think in order to be an effective leader, you have to know what you don’t know and be willing to learn those things.” Her motto is, “Keep the conversation going.”
She continues: “We rarely talk about the [generation of] women—because they’re women now—that were born with HIV. They’re in their 20s, and Hydeia Broadbent, she’s in her 30s. So I bring that to the table. They are truly the longtime survivors.” These women were growing up when, in some cases, there was not medication; and their mothers, who were living with HIV/AIDS, did not have the therapy and support needed to be able to care for a child.
Brown suggests that conversations be centered on the medical aspects of HIV and not on people’s behavior. She suggests that we focus on youths. “The older people do not seem to be hearing us, so their children are gonna have to educate them,” she says. “And we have to make sure we’re not just going to the hood; we need to engage the professional Black woman, too.”
She supports outreach like BAI’s HIV-testing booth at the Essence Festival, where she used her own story to attract women into finding out their status. “Being a part of that event where there is such a large gathering of Black women shows just how connected the Institute is to popular culture.”
Brown is excited to be joining the board when the current administration in Washington, D.C., is eliminating many of the gains made for people living with HIV/AIDS through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Her first act of resistance was resigning from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, also known as PACHA, to be able to confront HIV from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view.
“They are knocking at the foundation of the ACA,” she says. “And if that crumbles, then we will go back to having people who are always on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. That means they’re waiting for medication. If you’re not on medication and the virus starts attacking your immune system, you’re gonna die. We can’t have that.”
April Eugene is a Philadelphia-based writer.