Until There’s A Cure Executive Director Nora Hanna Discusses the Past, Present & Future of the Foundation as It Turns Twenty-Five
Text and Photos by Alina Oswald
I bought my Until There’s A Cure bracelet some fifteen years ago. I had heard about it and always admired not only its design—a simple band with an (AIDS) ribbon engraved on it—but mostly its symbolism and impact on the ongoing fight against HIV and AIDS. To this day I believe that, although the bracelet itself, is an eye-catcher, it is the ribbon that truly grabs the attention. Some would admire my bracelet, while others would just stare at it with question marks in their eyes. Few would actually ask questions and linger long enough to hear the full answer. And then one day, while attending a neighborhood gathering, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that one of my neighbors was also wearing the bracelet. That started a conversation right there and then, just between the two of us. I still wear the bracelet, as does that neighbor, as do many other people.
Ever since 1993, the Until There’s A Cure Foundation has used the bracelet to start—and then continue—a much-needed conversation about HIV and AIDS. This year, 2018, the foundation celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary with a special, limited edition, rose gold version of the bracelet, and also various events spread throughout the year, including several local events—working with schools, trying to raise awareness and also funds—on (and around) December 1, World AIDS Day 2018.
As mentioned on the Until There’s A Cure website, “The original bracelet was designed by Isabella Geddes of Florence, Italy, in 1993 — a symbolic, simple, and elegant cuff-style bracelet. What distinguishes our Foundation from others seeking to help those affected by HIV/AIDS is that our primary source of financing for this effort is The Bracelet. In featuring The Bracelet, our goals are to unite people around the world in promoting compassion, understanding, and responsibility, as well as increasing awareness.”
Until There’s A Cure Foundation uses the bracelet not only to raise awareness to combat HIV/AIDS-related stigma, but also to raise funds for the organization, in order to be able to continue the fight against the epidemic, explains Tony Beall, President and CEO of Mister Nonprofit Consultancy [A&U, March 2013].
“I’ve always been impressed with Until There’s A Cure [Foundation],” Beall says, “because, in my mind, they’re one of the first pioneers in the mission-based enterprise space that so many nonprofits, now, start looking to be a part of.” And he knows a thing or two about nonprofits…and not only. His company brings synergistic solutions to the nonprofit sector and helps nonprofits be the best that they can be for the communities that they serve; it also works with for-profit corporations interested in learning more about corporate social responsibility and getting socially engaged in the communities where their employees live.
Tony Beall has an Until There’s A Cure bracelet of his own. He’s met Nora Hanna, Executive Director of Until There’s A Cure Foundation through Timothy Ray Brown Foundation [A&U, October, 2016], and he “fell in love” with her passion for the mission of Until There’s A Cure. “I know that [A&U is] a dynamite publication that can help [tell] that story and I just did what Mister Nonprofit does, I just connected the dots,” says Beall, commenting on his role in helping spread the word about the twenty-fifth anniversary of Until There’s A Cure Foundation.
Over the years, the work and mission of Until There’s A Cure Foundation has attracted many celebrities—such as Alan Cumming [A&U, January 2004], Michael Phelps, and Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”), to mention only a few—who, in turn, have become Until There’s A Cure ambassadors. “It helps that celebrities wear this bracelet,” Beall comments.
“Until There’s A Cure has been a pioneer in this space,” he reiterates, “and today it’s all about brand ambassadors or social influencers, [and] when they say ‘here’s a product for you,’ people flock to buy that product. So, I think there’s a lot of value and relevance in having brand ambassadors, because people will see [say] Alan Cumming wearing the bracelet and supporting its mission and they’re going to want to do that, too.” That said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity to be a brand ambassador,” Beall adds. “In the nonprofit space [for example], brand ambassadors are the folks who can really help deliver the mission, the value, and the relevance of the nonprofits in their community.”
Wearing the bracelet is important and can spread awareness in a couple of ways. Wearing the bracelet financially supports Until There’s a Cure Foundation, so that it can further invest and find ways to serve the HIV/AIDS community. Not only that but the bracelet is a beautiful piece of jewelry, one that can start a conversation about HIV and AIDS.
“The reality is [that] HIV hasn’t gone away,” Beall comments on the importance of still having that conversation. “In some communities it’s worse than ever because of the stigma that’s attached [to it]. I think stigma prevents a lot of folks from getting tested and reaching out for help.” Using the bracelet to start a conversation about HIV and AIDS helps raise and maintain awareness, makes people more comfortable talking about HIV and, in turn, it helps decrease the related stigma.
Nora Hanna, Executive Director of Until There’s A Cure Foundation, reiterates the necessity of still having that conversation, and still wearing the bracelet and using the bracelet as a conversation starter. Hanna has been with Until There’s a Cure for a decade and counting, but she’s been wearing the bracelet for almost as long as the foundation has been around. “I’ve been wearing the bracelet in honor of three of my best friends who have passed away.” She explains that she was flying overseas when she noticed the bracelet in a shop at the airport. “I thought, ‘what a wonderful idea,’ and I bought it, and I still own and still wear it.”
Earlier this year Until There’s A Cure Foundation marked its twenty-fifth celebration of partnership with the San Francisco Giants. “They were the first major league sports team to recognize that HIV was a problem in our community and have helped the foundation raise money and awareness for the past twenty-five years. We are very fortunate and very proud of our partnership with them,” Hanna says.
Having an iconic ball player or actor wearing the bracelet helps raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. “It helps diminish the stigma,” Hanna says. That is, it shows people that it is ok to wear the bracelet, to look at it, talk about it. “We’re very grateful for our partners in that regard,” she adds.
Echoing Tony Beall’s words, Nora Hanna adds her voice to remind that one doesn’t have to be a celebrity to make a difference. Anybody can make a difference, become ambassadors, wear the bracelet and use it as a conversation starter, a conversation about HIV and AIDS. She encourages that conversation. “I think we should keep talking about it,” Hanna says. “[HIV] is not the death sentence that it was in the eighties, [and those living with the virus are now] living and thriving, but we’re not done yet. We’re on the right path, but we’re not there yet. We need to move forward and to remind people that HIV is still out there.” She adds, “The hardest thing for me is the complacency. I think that the biggest [problem] today is believing that HIV is not a problem anymore.”
When it comes to HIV, everybody has his or her own story to share, because HIV has touched everybody’s life. And yet, over the years, the focus of those stories has changed, if only ever so slightly, as has the face of the epidemic. With that, people’s perception of the epidemic, itself, has changed. The passing of time has also altered people’s views on the bracelet and its symbolism, as well as the conversations surrounding HIV and AIDS—from “death sentence” to surviving, from AZT to HAART then to undetectable and PrEP, from “getting to zero” to the hope of a possible AIDS cure in the not-so-distant future. And so, there’s a reason for people to continue wearing the bracelet and using it as a tool for communication.
“The bracelet is there to remember and honor the memory of all those who have gone before us,” Hanna comments. “We wear it today to support those who’re still continuing the fight and still looking for a cure.
“Along the way, there are social injustices that prevent people from getting their medications, [and so] we’re looking at social activism, making sure that our brothers and sisters are taken care of. [And] we try to keep up with what’s going on medically, and to inspire the next generation to get involved, hoping that there’s a generation out there that wants to help us find a cure by going into medical research or become activists, to become the next voice of this disease [so that] it’s not going to be forgotten.”
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor of A&U.