Vignetta Charles, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Not many people, can say they have been involved with HIV work since they were 16 years old. But AU’s Senior Vice President Vignetta Charles can! AND she became involved at this young age from one of the epicenters of the epidemic -- San Francisco’s Castro District.
“I worked at an independent bookstore in the accounting office,” she said. “The accountant and a number of his friends were gay men living in San Francisco and many of them were HIV-positive or had AIDS. There were lots of funerals then -- most of them for young men in their 20’s and 30’s. It just seemed so unjust to me. I started volunteering at Stop AIDS Project and gave out condoms in the Castro on weekends. I was 16.”
Vignetta Charles, PhD, joined AIDS United as the Vice President of Programs and Evaluation in July 2010. In her role, she guides the strategic programmatic for the organization, garners public and private resources for programs, leads efforts to measure and document program outcomes, and develops an expanded portfolio on the translation of science to community. According to Dr. Charles, AU’s greatest asset is its staff.
“What I love MOST about working at AIDS United are my colleagues,” she said. “I laugh -- and I mean belly laugh from my soul -- every single day. My colleagues are funny, smart, and committed. AIDS United attracts amazing individuals.”
Prior to joining the staff at AIDS United, Dr. Charles developed and rigorously evaluated innovative, theory- and evidence- based, sexual, reproductive health, and HIV prevention programs. Dr. Charles has focused her professional work on issues that disproportionately impact politically disenfranchised communities, with a focus on urban sexual and reproductive health with an emphasis on HIV prevention.
“HIV is the most stigmatized disease in the history of the world,” Dr. Charles said. “and it is one of the most preventable. But the stigma precludes prevention activities, including accessing care—which we now know is also prevention.”
Dr. Charles’ previous work experience includes serving as the national health educator for the Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies, initiating a teen pregnancy prevention portfolio for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and coordinating HIV- and pregnancy- prevention programs in both San Francisco and Oakland, California. She is an alumna of the University of California at Berkeley for undergraduate work, the Harvard School of Public Health for a Masters degree in health and social behavior, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for her PhD in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health. HIV remains her passion. “I remain in the work because every year, there’s a new cohort of young people who commit to engaging to end the epidemic, which truly inspires me,” she said. “We need to stay in the work until they can take over!”
And while Dr. Charles works to eliminate HIV-associated stigma and shame, she concurrently works to eliminate shame around her passion for TV, too!
“I am television obsessed,” she said. “I can spend hours talking about television—and have no shame about it. I wrote my dissertation watching ‘Bones,’ and can read it now and know exactly which episode was on when I wrote that section.”