The Black AIDS Institute (BAI) is a national, community-focused nonprofit that seeks to offer an unapologetically Black lens in a continuous effort to end the HIV epidemic in Black communities. Under the current leadership of Interim CEO and Chief Program Officer Michelle Reese, BAI focuses all decisions, responses, messaging, and programming on the core values of Black empowerment, equity, impact, self-determination and integrity.
Founded in 1999, BAI was brought together by powerful leaders to help mobilize and educate Black Americans about HIV/AIDS treatment and care. They envisioned an organization that directly challenged the systems of oppression that marginalize Black health and developed culturally specific programming to address the unique needs of Black people. With a foundation in advocacy and policy work, BAI works towards improving the health and wellness of Black people through research, community efforts, and clinical work.
Over the span of 23 years, BAI has been a strong presence in the Black community, developing research and training programs to prepare the next generation of leaders to continue shifting the paradigm to center Black voices in the conversation to end the HIV epidemic. Beginning in 2001, BAI launched a Community Mobilization College, referred to as the African American HIV University (AAHU). Since its inception, this program has trained hundreds of advocates on the history of community coalitions and their efforts in fighting the HIV epidemic, current United States HIV strategy, and recent advances in biomedical prevention methods.
On February 7, 2020, BAI launched “We The People: A Black Strategy to End HIV” which set pillars to Invest, Build and Dismantle anti-Black practices and systems that jeopardize the health and well-being of Black people. The initiative sought to push forward the creation of platforms to make sure that the community at large is an integral part in research and decision making regarding HIV, and the strategies to move this work forward.
Leading the We The People strategy, BAI partnered with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and Treatment Action Group to develop the “We The People Research Cohort” (WTPRC) which was an educational effort to gear up marginalized populations with knowledge about HIV biomedical prevention interventions to empower and continue to create new generations of HIV research advocates. WTPRC has trained over 60 advocates to serve as mobilizers for HIV vaccine and biomedical interventions in the United States. In April 2022, BAI and partners (HVTN, Treatment Action Group and Southern AIDS Coalition) led a workshop at the NMAC Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit titled, “The Power of Togetherness: Building Future HIV Advocates.” This well attended event highlighted the continual need to center work around community voices.
The biomedical research department at the Black AIDS Institute is made up of a talented team of three being led by Myriam Johnstone, Senior Program Manager of Biomedical Research Training and Education; Brady Maiden, Senior Manager of Prevention and Research; and Destiny Pearson, Research Coordinator II, who lead all programming efforts based on inclusion of communities of color in the HIV space. As 2020 progressed, the biomedical research team included in its efforts a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Black people. Black Americans were greatly affected by the pandemic after years of being historically misrepresented, misinformed and used as test subjects in the research field, which led to taking a creative approach in how to engage the Black community around COVID-19 vaccine awareness and safe social distancing practices.
This sparked the launch of a social media campaign titled Wake Up Wednesdays, with a strong following of over 15,000 followers. The biomed team is able to poll the lay community and develop content that helps create an understanding of the science and vaccine development for both COVID-19 and HIV. In June 2022, BAI continued their brown bag series with an event titled, Lifespan of Black Americans Post- Pandemic, which discussed the lower life expectancy of Black Americans and the post-traumatic stress of the pandemic. Highlighting a further need for community health, in August 2022 BAI, hosted a self-care healing circle in partnership with HVTN for frontline workers to have a space to debrief on the impact of the pandemic and provide guiding tools on how to move forward.
BAI continues to collaborate with the HIV Vaccine Trials network and other partners to rethink how we have conversations with communities of color about HIV vaccines, research, and biomedical prevention. As the current state of the world continues to shift, with Monkeypox now at the forefront of conversation alongside COVID-19 and HIV, BAI recognizes that there is still work that needs to be done to dismantle institutional barriers of access for Black people in the United States and across the globe. Working with HIV Vaccine Trials Network, Treatment Action Group, Southern AIDS Coalition and other partners, BAI will launch a strong push to reimagine efforts of outreach to Black community intersections, such as churches, salons, barber shops and local organizations, to solidify the message that this is “Our People, Our Problem and Our Solution”.