1. What first interested you in the Executive Director role?
I have a strong passion to address HIV/AIDS and stigma in faith communities. My family has deep roots in the Church and a long legacy of integrating our faith with social justice. Also, I have been blessed to fellowship with people of different cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds through my personal and professional engagements. These experiences laid the foundation for me to understand the importance of using my faith and actions to embrace all people, regardless of their race/ethnicity, sexuality, or disease status. Over the past 11 years, I have worked to address HIV-related stigma in communities across the world and co-founded HIV Cure Research Day (December 14) to encourage community members to get involved in finding a cure for HIV. I am excited by the opportunity to bring these passions together through the work as Executive Director of the Gilead COMPASS Faith Coordinating Center in the Divinity School at Wake Forest University to address HIV stigma in faith communities across the Southeastern United States.
2. What would you like to see accomplished in the inaugural year of the center?
As Executive Director, I am excited about integrating my passions for HIV/AIDS, social justice, and the arts into the work we will accomplish together. The Faith Coordinating Center will include a team of people dedicated to using open dialogue and multiple training opportunities to mitigate HIV stigma in our faith communities. We plan to launch a series of creative communications, including video interviews and social media content, to address trauma and promote healing. In addition, the Center will proactively fund and support regional initiatives related to the Center’s mission.
3. How will you apply your previous experience and research interests to your work?
My research has explored a variety of topics related to stigma. Specifically, I examined how the intersection of Black, gay, and religious identities shaped decisions about engaging in faith spaces; how research institutions build trust with communities about clinical research; how to engage faith leaders and their congregations in health ministries; how to connect medically underserved populations to care; and how to crowdsource community ideas to direct the future of clinical research. I will apply these research interests to inform the development of training opportunities and communication initiatives within the Gilead COMPASS Faith Coordinating Center.
4. What challenges, if any, do you anticipate? How will the center begin working to overcome these challenges?
The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS has been pervasive and is our biggest challenge. However, faith communities in the United States have a long legacy of standing up for social justice. We have an opportunity to leverage that history to address HIV-related stigma and eventually end the epidemic. Scientists have made major advancements in treatment and prevention medications, and have cured three people of HIV/AIDS in the world. The Center can take a role in educating faith communities about these advancements so they can act as ambassadors to eradicate HIV/AIDS stigma. It will take all of us, especially our faith communities, to heal the spiritual and social wounds inflicted on our loved ones living with HIV/AIDS.
5. Fill in the blank. I am an architect of . In other words, what are you passionate about “building” or transforming in others and the world?
I am an architect of innovation. In other words, I am passionate about using technology and research perspectives to empower and mobilize community engagement around social justice issues. I have an understanding of the transformational work done in the past to address HIV/AIDS. I aim to advance that work by using new tools, such as technology and social media, to address systematic inequality and integrate theology with a sociological perspective.
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