[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Southern AIDS Coalition (SAC) recently welcomed aboard a new member of its team, Khafre K. Abif [A&U, February 2014], who will serve as the organization’s community organizer. You may be familiar with Abif as the founder of Cycle for Freedom, a 2,028-mile bike trip that covers the same ground as the Underground Railroad did in order to bring attention to the impact of HIV/AIDS on black communities. Or you may have read the literary anthology he edited, Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems & Affirmations for People Living with HIV/AIDS. A longtime HIV advocate and activist, Abif holds a master’s degree in library science and is a writer and blogger as well as an educator.
With headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, SAC is a “membership organization of PLHIV and their allies working together to end the HIV and STI epidemics in the South by promoting accessible and high-quality systems of prevention, treatment, care, housing, and essential support services.” The deep and varied fund of its expertis is culled from representatives from state health departments, advocacy and community-based organizations, and businesses.
Since its launch in 2001, SAC has been successful in addressing HIV/AIDS disparities in the South by dismantling barriers to gold-standard care, housing, and vital support services through connecting these key stakeholders, Nic Carlisle, SAC’s executive director, tells A&U. While these important partnerships will continue, SAC is working to mobilize “connected and empowered” grass-roots advocacy efforts, in essence because, notes Carlisle, “we believe PLHIV have a fundamental and inalienable right to participate in the decisions that impact their lives and survival. Amplifying their voices is absolutely fundamental to our efforts to improve policies and practices across the South.” As he reminds, significant and positive change has been accomplished whenever people living with HIV/AIDS were involved in the decision-making process.
A part of this effort is the appointment of Abif, says Carlisle, who is excited that, for the first time, SAC has been able to have on staff someone who can travel full-time about the South and connect people living with HIV/AIDS and state-based advocacy networks to the coalition.
“We know that when agendas are dictated by organizations with little to no meaningful involvement from PLHIV, the resulting policy priorities cannot adequately reflect the needs of people living with the disease. Instead, we want to provide the information and training needed to move PLHIV from passive messengers to active leaders in advocacy. That’s why we are launching new forums exclusively for Southerners living with HIV, why we are hosting a leadership development institute later this summer, and why we are partnering with networks across the South to increase their capacity to effect change. We have trainings scheduled for South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, and we are adding new trainings every week.”
Notes Abif, “Applying the voices of people living with HIV/AIDS through technical assistance and capacity building which will help local communities in the South prioritize the policy issues which they self determine. I hope as I move about the 16 Southern States as community organizer I will have the opportunity dialogue with Black gay and bisexual men to develop a specific policy agenda driven by the needs of Black gay and bisexual men.”
Made possible by the AIDS United Southern REACH initiative, which has received much funding from the Ford Foundation, the community organizing work is the just the next phase of SAC’s vital impact.
For more information or to join, visit www.southernaidscoalition.org.