One BAI Team Member’s Journey

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“I was a stigma pusher, but not anymore, obviously,” says Joshua Rodgers who joined the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) prevention and care team last November as an administrative program assistant.  Rodgers, who is living with HIV, came through the doors of BAI on September 5th of 2017 to get tested and access services.  He was tested the day before and says, “I came to BAI because I tested HIV-positive the day before at a large mostly white HIV-organization in LA and honestly, I don’t trust white people.”

Josh was referring to feeling medical mistrust, a justified and common experience in Black communities. When discussing medical mistrust, or the reticence to trust medical and research institutions, people often cite the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments and other historical abuses.  However, BAI’s Prevention and Care Manager points out that, “Our clients, especially clients who receive other types of social services, sometimes come in to our clinic after being mistreated by these other institutions. It’s part of why we value customer service and are so committed to respecting our clients and providing an unapologetically Black space.”

Rodgers was immediately linked at BAI with Joshua Polk who was formerly BAI’s outreach coordinator, “I remember him walking into the office…He literally came in with both arms in a sling.  I knew that I would probably have my hands full.”  He added, “He told us about his experience at the other organization and I wanted to make sure to create a safer, more comfortable experience for him. I think he knew he wanted to receive services from Black folks and ultimately that kept him around. I think he was able to see himself in us, providing him with a level of trust that couldn’t have been provided elsewhere.”

Rodgers says he used to stigmatize people living with HIV. “Basically I saw them as people as long as they were over there, and not in relation with me. Literally, I just saw them as other. I would call them ‘those’ people.”

But, as he spent more time at BAI, he began to change his views. “I was literally up here every day doing whatever. I helped make testing packets and I went to events.  I joined BTAN (Black Treatment Advocates Network) and Revolution in Color.”

“In the beginning it (diagnosis) was a struggle because I felt overwhelmed. I knew about the virus, but I didn’t know about the virus,” says Rodgers.  “It’s really not the end of the world. I felt that way, but it’s not.  Embrace it.  It will put you in different positions that will cause you to grow and live life to its fullest, and not live life with regrets.”

Polk, reminiscing on how Rodgers got closer to BAI, reminisces, “We were trying to get him enrolled into services, so naturally I invited him to start attending Revolution in Color (a group of young, Black, men who lead each other to personal success and development) meetings. I also encouraged him to drop in and see me, if he needed to talk or if he just needed somewhere to hang out. I think our relationship got a lot stronger when his mom passed away. I wanted to make sure that he knew that he had support. So, I was in his corner, encouraging him and just trying to be an ear for him.”

Rodgers says, “This is one of the few spaces where all people are truly welcomed and not judged…This is my safe place as well as work place and I wouldn’t change that for anything. It was nice being in a space where there are so many Black people willing to accept me being a gay Black male, and a positive gay Black male.”

Rodgers wants to eventually go back to school and earn a degree.  “I want to incorporate my skillsets with food and nutrition into some sort of program at BAI.”  He added, “I think I want to do something in public health. I want to be a dietician.”

In the future he says he wants to start his own nonprofit as well.  Rodgers says BAI’s recent leadership transition has provided learning for this future venture. “My biggest learning experience would be around organizational structure and values. In this transition we all have a part to play. You also need to have a seat at the table for those in the targeted community.”

(Read one of Rodgers original poems)

*Hygh is the Senior Communications Manager for the Black AIDS Institute