Back to Life

by David Waggoner

Back to Life


New opportunities often fall by the wayside because we think we are not qualified to tackle them. But time and again I have seen old skills come to life in fresh contexts—and the new opportunity is seized instead of wasted.

That’s why I was heartened to see Peter Staley on Anderson Cooper 360° decrying Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie’s policies of quarantining individuals (mostly health professionals) who are returning from countries whose citizens have been hard-hit by the Ebola virus and banning travel. Staley is an AIDS activist of the old guard and he was joined by others in ACT UP, as well as Housing Works, GMHC, and the Latino Commission on AIDS, among others, in protesting strictures that seemed all too familiar. Many of them remember the missteps of the early years of AIDS, when hospitals unnecessarily segregated patients living with HIV, healthcare staff put alienating barriers between themselves and the people they were supposed to be treating, and the government made it near-impossible to travel into or out of the U.S. if one was HIV-positive. Now, when the public and policymakers alike are reacting out of panic instead of rational thought and humane compassion, these AIDS activists were able to bring their old skills—clarifying the message, advocating for health justice, leading with scientific evidence not fear, to name a few—to bear on this fresh context.

It’s the kind of pivotal move worth celebrating, and we do just that in this issue. Publicist Susan Blond, this month’s cover story interview, has almost made a career out of applying established skills to new ventures. As she tells A&U’s Special Projects Editor Lester Strong, Blond had a successful start as a visual artist, which led her to a professional relationship with Andy Warhol, who tapped her to write for his Interview magazine: “My art became interviews I did for the magazine, underground TV series and shows I was in, Warhol movies I was in.” From there she became a record company executive and then head of her own public relations firm, representing some of the biggest names in the entertainment business and corporate world. She soon tapped her talent for telling stories—through art, writing, and publicity—in order to raise awareness about AIDS. Enlisted by DIFFA (the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS), she explains why she made the commitment: “I wanted to see what I could do to help. I hoped my expertise in publicity and my connections in the entertainment and design communities could make a difference, and saw my efforts as a way to commemorate my friends who had died of the disease and help ensure their deaths would mean something.”

Elsewhere in this issue, A&U features articles about others who are expert at transferable skills. As Aaron Goodwin reports, the members of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS use their public platforms to promote health empowerment among women and children, with a special emphasis on HIV-related education, prevention, and treatment. And, as Editor at Large Chip Alfred found out in his article about the Bronx nonprofit Health People, the community-based organization is applying what they know about HIV outreach and health services to other issues affecting that borough’s residents.

So, if you’ve ever dismissed any of your skills when it comes to the fight against AIDS, take a moment and reconsider how they might be applied. Believe me, with millions still in need of access to lifesaving treatment, we need everyone’s creativity and energy working on the puzzle we call “getting to zero.”

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national magazine dedicated to HIV/AIDS.