When I was invited to The White House to help plan the marketing for the update to the President’s (Obama) National HIV/AIDS Strategy, I felt really connected to some of the important individuals that made plans for the federal governments’ response and direction about the HIV epidemic. I was sitting “at the table” where decisions were being made and strategies were being formed. I was surrounded by a think tank of extraordinary HIV organizations and nonprofits. It was a who’s who in the HIV community.
And I felt out of my league, honestly.
I was just an individual activist, who later was advised to just introduce myself using a similar term (advocate) because the West Wing staffers got nervous with the word activist. I was just offering encouragement to people living with HIV on my blog and my social media channels.
Honestly, I was uncomfortable in my brand-new suit, pretending to take important notes that I would then pretend to need later, and my mind wondered to the many amazing HIV activists across the country and then particularly in Tennessee and Nashville.
To this day, I am so inspired by the many activists and health educators in our area—many who do incredibly important work that often times goes unseen. But they show up every time there is a need or a vacancy, usually with a tremendous amount of pressure.
And some may not even consider themselves activists. But, that’s exactly how I view them.
Locally, we are blessed to have activists like Brady Dale Etzkorn-Morris, whose story was told at the right time and heard by the right people, resulting in around 3,000 health departments signing the U=U consensus statement at one time. He sits on the Nashville ‘Ending the HIV Epidemic’ committee, is the chair of the Nashville Planning Council appointed by the Mayor, and a Tennessee AIDS Advocacy Network (TAAN) member working to end unfair HIV laws in Tennessee. If there is a local board that makes plans about the HIV epidemic, he’s on it and probably leading it.
Other people that I truly respect in our area that I personally know include Mark Middle Hubbard, who has been educating our committee about HIV and sexual health for years. Hubbard deserves a huge pat on the back for stepping up and educating Nashville about PrEP—which undoubtedly has kept so many from being diagnosed with HIV. He’s incredibly committed to being medically accurate and making sure that the science is understood by all of us.
In Memphis, Jimmie Samuels has been a staunch activist for the HIV community. He’s always gotten a nice contingent from the Memphis area to attend things like AIDSWatch and statewide meetings. We are lucky Samuels lives in our state!
Others that are doing amazing work include: Stephen Bloodworth of Team Friendly Tennessee, The Conductors, Mario Forte, Mark Grantham, Roger Dale Hilley, and Claude Genzel. We have two amazing women that lead our Aids Service Organizations across our state, as a directive from the Tennessee Department of Health working for United Way—Mia L. Boozer-Sharp, Ed.D., and Niki Easley.
The owners of Play and Tribe open their businesses’ doors every time there is a call or need for HIV-related fundraisers or testing outreach. We never thank them enough for their unique and important contributions of space and equipment.
And there are so many more! I obviously don’t know everyone and can’t mention them, so I need your help. Who are activists in Tennessee for the HIV community that we need to all thank?
Josh Robbins is a spokesperson for DatingPositives.com, an award-winning sexual health advocate, and author of the site imstilljosh.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.