I joined ASC's Board of Directors in 1996. I give my time to ASC because it provides customized HIV prevention and care services that really embody the agency's slogan of "helping many, one by one."
My philosophy is that HIV prevention can only work if it is tailored to each person's needs. ASC helps people avoid acquiring HIV in the first place; works with them to help them reduce the risk of getting re-infected with HIV; and helps them curb transmission of HIV by working with every client as an individual.
I know first-hand that cookie-cutter HIV prevention doesn't work. You get more buy-in from people when they see themselves reflected in the prevention effort, as opposed to generalizations about this or that group of people.
Initially, I was invited to join ASC's Board of Directors because of my history with community-based HIV prevention work, and because I am HIV-positive and willing to say as much. I serve on the board's Program Committee.
Every potential program at ASC undergoes a board-level assessment in which we ask, How will this program affect our clients? How will it be utilized? What needs to be considered from the client perspective and the managerial perspective? How might this program benefit our clients' medical circumstances? The committee then evaluates pros and cons of adding the program to ASC's service array.
We recently took ASC's new Spiritual Outreach Services (S.O.S.) program through this process. In my capacity as co-chair of the Global HIV/AIDS Ministry at Riverside Church, I knew our ministry—which reaches many people in need of HIV/AIDS services—lacked the capacity to run a full-service HIV/AIDS prevention program in-house.
We needed a partner that did have such resources—a partner with a truly open-door policy, like ASC. After discussions between Riverside Church and ASC, we created a formal service agreement where ASC would bring its HIV prevention resources to our community. Though ASC is not a religious entity, its outreach includes people who do HIV prevention through communities of faith, whether the venue is a church, mosque, synagogue, or other setting.
ASC is the perfect partner, because at Riverside Church, we needed to find a group that shared our commitment to 100% inclusiveness, without exception and without reservation. Many groups say they're inclusive until, for example, a transgender person turns up on their doorstep. But ASC is genuinely inclusive, and that fits with our values.
Since December, S.O.S. has provided HIV prevention services in a Chinese Buddhist Center, a mosque, and several churches. More than a thousand people in East and Central Harlem have been reached, and we're just getting started. Increasingly, communities of faith are coming to the table to address this epidemic. The time is right for HIV prevention collaborations between groups like ASC and the faith-based community. My hope for S.O.S. is that one day, it will put everybody in the AIDS field out of work and close the HIV/AIDS industry down.