Jesse Milan, Jr.
“My whole life is focused on HIV/AIDS!”
Those words are no understatement when it comes to Jesse Milan, Jr.. True, he’s been living with the virus for 25 years and counting, but HIV is more than just a part of his body. HIV is a part of his life’s work. An indefatigable servant, Milan has worked in many levels of the public health service continuum and has been recognized as a seasoned leader by numerous health, faith and legal organizations in both the public and private sectors.
A graduate of Princeton University and the New York University School of Law, Milan is now Senior Principal for Health Policy and Promotion at SRA Constella Group, an international contract research firm where he is responsible for promoting public/private partnerships in the domestic and international health arenas. His responsibilities include managing a budget of $25 million, as well as health-related programs for federal agencies like the National Institute of Health, all with a mission to enhance human health.
Milan’s experience as national advocate for HIV/AIDS policies and programs looks more like the work of several workaholics. From 2002-2007, he served as co-chair (appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson) of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Resources and Services Administration Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention and Treatment. Prior to that, he was co-chair (2001-2002) of the Health Resources and Services Administration AIDS Advisory Committee. Milan also served for six years as Constella’s Project Director of the CDC’s National Prevention Information Network, the world’s largest service for dissemination of information on HIV/AIDS, STDs and TB; and for seven years as Director of the CDC Business and Labor Respond to AIDS Resource Service.
Between his own diagnosis and his career, Milan is a man with a unique perspective on the pandemic, a man who understands well the nuances of the protracted struggle. He cites as positives such developments as the Ryan White Act, the introduction of prevention planning, the fact that awareness of the disease is worldwide and that people with AIDS can now live longer, but he’s also quick to point out the many challenges that remain.
“This is a health issue that converges with issues of poverty, racism, lack of health care, homophobia, stigma and sexuality—all of these are part of HIV/AIDS,” says Milan, who fears that many in policy-making positions believe that AIDS is a fading problem. “The need is continuing to grow. More research is needed for treatments to take care of the millions of us living with HIV. We have a long way to go towards helping policymakers understand we need more funds for treatment and a vaccine. Everyday, someone new puts himself or herself at risk because he or she doesn’t have information.”
The good news in this election year, according to Milan, is that “there are policy makers who do understand and a number of them are running for president and have committed to addressing HIV/AIDS in the new administration.”
Talking to Milan, one gets the feeling his time on earth would have been spent serving others had AIDS never existed. His father was the first Black teacher in Kansas in the 1950s, and later, president of the state’s NAACP chapter.
“The desire to do the right thing for human rights has always been there for me,” says Milan, quick to credit his father’s solid foundation and inspiration. As an attorney, the junior Milan was director of the $21 million AIDS Office for the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and chaired the region’s HIV prevention and care planning processes. Currently he is board chair of the Black AIDS Institute, and has served as president of the boards of Action AIDS (Pennsylvania’s largest AIDS service organization), the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium, and the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition. In addition, he has delivered hundreds of presentations on the pandemic across the United States and in eight African nations. His published articles on HIV stigma and have appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, and he was recently designated a Fulbright Senior Specialist with a specialization in Global HIV/AIDS.
With so much time in the trenches, one might understand if Milan feels a little battle fatigue, but the work seems to fuel his ongoing desire to make a difference. He was voted Humanitarian of the Year by the readers of the Philadelphia Gay News and was honored by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for “leading the national and international fight against HIV disease.” Recently, he also received the first national HIV advocacy award from the Balm in Gilead.
“I’ve been to the Heroes in the Struggle event before,” he says when asked about being an honoree. “I’ve sat in the audience and watched and admired the people receiving recognition. I was stunned when they decided to honor me because of the work that I’ve done, work that I could not help myself from doing. I love to answer the call and go where I’m needed, but I didn’t know I would find such a high level of gratification doing what I love to do.”