LOS ANGELES—The Black AIDS Institute (BAI) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. BAI was incorporated on May 10, 1999 by Phill Wilson, after a life-threatening struggle with HIV, with inspiration from his best friend, the late Reggie Williams. Founded as a non-profit think tank focused on HIV/AIDS in the Black community, the organization initially launched as the African American AIDS Policy & Training Institute and later became known as the Black AIDS Institute.
“We founded the Institute primarily because of the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS was having on the Black community and the disparity between the needs and the resources applied to Black communities,” says founder Phill Wilson. “The first steps in addressing HIV in Black communities was to get Black communities to take ownership of the epidemic and help Black communities understand the science of HIV.”
During the 20 years progress has been made in the fight to end the epidemic, but there is still work to be done. Overall, the rate of new infections among Black Americans decreased by 25% among Black heterosexual women, and 26% among Black heterosexual men, but remained stable among Black gay and bisexual men. There are approximately 468,800 Black Americans living with HIV, with only 1 in 7 Black Americans aware they are living with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) half of Black gay men are projected to be diagnosed within their lifetime. Black people are by far the most affected racial or ethnic group with a lifetime HIV risk.
Raniyah Copeland, BAI’s President and CEO, says, “The epidemic still rages in Black communities and we have the tools to end it.” She says, “At BAI, our team works to ensure Black communities know about the tools we have to end HIV and make sure healthcare providers and institutions are doing the necessary work to provide quality services to Black communities.” She added, “We are the generation that can end the HIV and AIDS epidemic.”
Copeland says, “Our vision for the Black AIDS Institute of tomorrow is an organization that is deeply entrenched in the community, providing services at all points of the care continuum along with a well-respected research, policy, mobilization and capacity-building portfolio that is uniquely and unapologetically Black.”
Last year BAI tested over 1,500 people, linked more than 100 Black Angelinos to PrEP, connected over 40 people living with HIV to care, launched a Black women and HIV initiative, trained over 10,000 people, worked to save Obamacare and expand healthcare access, along with many other projects that are directly ending HIV.
Jesse Milan, Jr., President and CEO of AIDS United, served on BAI’s board of directors from 2001 until 2009, and as board chair from 2002 until 2009. “From my vantage point, I’m very proud that BAI has endured through these years to remain a relevant and powerful force for Black America, and on behalf of Black America,” says Milan. “Today more than ever, Black people living with HIV, and Black people at risk for HIV, and Black people who know and love anyone living with HIV, have much to thank BAI for.” He added, “The mission has continued and the organization is now thriving in this juncture of this transition from its founder and the next generation under Raniyah.”
Colin Gibson was the incorporating attorney for BAI after leaving the defense firm he was working for to work for BAI for the first year. “I lost my partner who was a Black man living with AIDS in 1992. The idea that I might have something to contribute to the start of the organization, I was happy to leave the firm and go to work full time,” says Gibson. He remembers a dual focus on testing and treatment. “Until you knew what your status was, you couldn’t help anyone else. When you knew your status you could start treatment and make an intelligent choice with your medical advisors,” says Gibson. “The Institute was always involved in peer to peer activities, communicating with the same community with the same experiences.”
From the African American HIV University and Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN), to the groundbreaking “State of AIDS in Black America” reports and celebrations of Black excellence at the annual Heroes in the Struggle Gala Reception and Awards, BAI has been relentless in its focus on Black communities.
Some of its current programs include:
- BTAN a national network, organized and facilitated by BAI. There are 13 BTAN chapters and 13 affiliates across the nation;
- The Black Women’s Ambassador Program a program for Black women to build engagement and movement around HIV and sexual health for Black women with a cohort of Black cis and trans women, who are living with HIV and HIV-negative, who receive training about HIV and sexual health;
- A Clinic For Us: Community Health Services, a partnership with John’s Well Child and Family Center serving Black Angelinos and other racial/ethnic minorities in the Los Angeles County metropolis, particularly, Black men living with HIV or high risk for HIV; and,
- Revolution in Color (RevInColor) a group of young, Black, men who lead each other to personal success and development. Through outreach and events, RevInColor looks at risk reduction and HIV prevention from a social point of view.
The Black AIDS Institute’s mission is to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing traditional Black Leaders, Institutions, and individuals in efforts to confront HIV/AIDS. BAI disseminates information, conducts trainings, offers technical and capacity building assistance, advocates for sound, inclusive, culturally responsive public and private sector health policies, delivers high quality comprehensive local primary care and treatment in Los Angeles, and provides advocacy and mobilization from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view. The motto is “Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution!”
*Hygh is the senior communications manager for the Black AIDS Institute.