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Southern REACH: Pushing the Nation Forward

Working on the Southern REACH portfolio the last five years has been inspiring. Over time I have seen the cohort become smaller but stronger! It’s been encouraging to see organizations in the South come together to build networks, move policy forward, and mobilize and engage to make real policy change. This level of mobilization and engagement has yielded real policy change and improved the lives of people living with HIV. For example, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has worked tirelessly to legalize syringe exchanges in their state, and after years of hard work, their advocacy paid off big time when Governor McCrory signed a bill that legalized syringe exchange, on July 11th, 2016. In fact, North Carolina lawmakers made history by becoming the first veto-proof Republican super majority to legalize syringe exchange programs. This victory matters, it will change lives, and it is exactly what Southern REACH grantees do every day.

Part of what fuels my inspiration are the site visits I do each year; they’re one of the things I enjoy most about my work. Recently, I visited grantees in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. I always appreciate the opportunity to spend some quality face time with grantee organizations who are doing the work on the ground every day and so I can better understand how we can support their incredible work. With each site visit, I grow more motivated and excited about the work being done throughout the South. During my site visits, I learn about the successes and opportunities each grantee faces and together we brainstorm strategies to move policy forward. You, the Southern REACH grantees, truly are an amazing group of people living and working in states with difficult laws impacting the work you do. Yet, each organization I visit is welcoming and passionate about their work and their communities. The site visits remind me of the reason why I do the work I do.

One of the highlights of my trip this summer was directly engaging with burgeoning young leaders in the southernmost point of Texas. While at Valley AIDS Council, I had the opportunity to sit with a group of young Latino men living with HIV from the Rio Grande Valley who openly shared their stories and experiences with their peers. It wasn’t only a “safe space,” but, as George Huerta from Valley AIDS Council said, it was a “brave space.” Hearing their stories inspired me and I am grateful to have the privilege of supporting an organization that provides this kind of space for young men of color living with HIV to build their leadership.

I believe that when we talk about improving the state of our nation, it is imperative to take a good look at the South. Disparities in HIV, education, health access, criminalization, and factors such as voter suppression are all evident in the South. The innovative work that REACH grantees do, with the support of the Ford Foundation, is cross-cutting, intersectional, and exactly what is needed to move the needle forward on these difficult policy issues. I appreciate the work that all of you do. Thank you!

Posted By: Liam Cabal, Senior Program Manager, AIDS United - Wednesday, August 03, 2016

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