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We Can End HIV In Black Communities in the South--But We Need Your Help

When I started working in HIV and public health over 15 years ago, I was eager to improve the devastating health outcomes that Black communities in the U.S. South faced – higher rates of HIV and limited access to culturally competent health care and health education to name a few. I spent almost a decade living in our nation’s capital work with organizations and individuals that fought daily to impact and improve policy for Black communities across the country like the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition and the National Black Justice Coalition.

Early in my career, I learned the solution to addressing HIV in the South wasn't just the presence or absence of HIV testing and medications. There were key issues rooted in this historic, political, and cultural nature of the Southern landscape that exacerbated the impact of health disparities within Black communities. The issues linked to the social and economic barriers rooted in the unique history of racism, religion, segregation, and slavery in the U.S. South.

That’s why in 2018, I returned to my hometown of Dallas, Texas to launch the Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network (SBPAN), a non-profit focused on improving the health of Black communities in the South through a lens of healthcare policy, advocacy, social justice, equity and ACTION!

Being at many policy and advocacy tables throughout my career, I noticed that Southern Black voices were at the table; however, they needed support developing messages and activities to unapologetically advocate to end HIV in Black communities across the U.S. South. I saw the urgent need for Black leaders and public health leadership, usually organized by gender identity and/or sexual identity subpopulations, to unite and define a coordinated response for ending health disparities in Black communities in the U.S. South.

SBPAN was created to fill the void of southern-based representative advocacy to educate decision-makers and policymakers to improve the practice and delivery of healthcare services and policy targeting Black communities in the U.S. South. SBPAN is committed to specifically those living at the intersection of marginalized communities, including those who are same gender loving (SGL); lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people; women; youth; and persons over 55 years of age.

Our first initiative, the Southern Black HIV/AIDS Network, was created to expand the capacity of Black leaders and HIV advocates to impact federal, state, and local HIV policy, programs, and research. Started in 2018 with seed funding the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, the Network supports diverse populations of Black communities in the U.S. South living with and affected by HIV.

And today, for the first time ever, we have the tools we need to end HIV once and for all. That’s why this year we developed and released an HIV/AIDS advocacy survey for the nine southern states most impacted by HIV – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The survey assesses the capacity of advocacy for HIV-related public health policy in the U.S. South. Data from the survey will be used to develop advocacy strategies to be implemented in 2020 and 2021 on behalf Black communities.

As a Black man, a gay man, a person living with HIV, a person raised in the South, I stand on the shoulders of giants who fought social injustice, racism, homophobia, and slavery so that Black communities could have the opportunity to live in a world where they are treated with dignity and in an equitable manner. It humbles me to have the opportunity to continue that legacy of leadership through the work of the SBPAN.

If you are working to address HIV/AIDS in the South, please complete and/or share this survey with your network. CLICK HERE to complete the survey. The survey will help us assess the capacity of advocacy for HIV/AIDS-related public health policy in the U.S. South.

Venton Hill-Jones is the founder and CEO of the Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network (SBPAN). Learn more about Venton and SBPAN at

Posted By: Guest Blogger: Venton Hill-Jones, Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network - Monday, August 19, 2019

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