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HIV Organizations Announce Racial Justice Index to Remedy Disconnect Between HIV Leadership and Community Impact

Leading up to National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS United and its Public Policy Council, composed of 55 of the nation's leading organizations dedicated to ending HIV, are announcing they have launched the Racial Justice Index. AIDS United is working collaboratively with the Black AIDS Institute, a Public Policy Council member, to guide this work. After the summer of 2020 that ushered in a racial reckoning in America, this novel initiative aims to create awareness—and eventually sustainable change—around the misalignment between who holds power and resources in HIV organizations and the epidemic's disproportionate impact on Black Americans.

The Racial Justice Index is part of a series of outcomes that emerged from more than two years of conversations led by leaders of color among the Public Policy Council and was made more urgent by the national outcry for racial justice. In June 2020, AIDS United, along with 53 members of its Public Policy Council and more than 20 other HIV organizations, issued an open letter to all elected officials calling for all policies to be enacted through a racial justice and equity framework. The Index's mission is to assess and improve the HIV sector's commitment to racial equity by creating assessment tools and resources to combat anti-Black racism and other forms of racism that will first be analyzed in PPC organizations and then the HIV sector. This includes hiring practices, leadership, talent retention and decision-making in the HIV movement. The Index's methodical implementation process will seek to onboard HIV organizations to respond to an online national survey that will inform a publicly-released report, which will facilitate critical leadership conversations among HIV stakeholders.

The initiative will be guided by the Racial Justice Index Committee, a committee formed out of AIDS United's Public Policy Council and cochaired by Raniyah Copeland, president and CEO of Black AIDS Institute, and A. Toni Young, CEO, Community Education Group—nationally renowned Black leaders in the HIV community. The PPC and the Index committee are managed by Carl Baloney Jr., AIDS United vice president for policy and advocacy. AIDS United Board members, Dr. Kimberley Jeffries Leonard, president of Links Inc., and Dr. David Holtgrave, Dean of the University at Albany School of Public Health, SUNY, have also been instrumental in assisting in the creation of the Index. The committee includes HIV service and advocacy organizations from across the country. The work of the Racial Justice Index will first assess how leadership in the HIV movement reflects the communities most impacted and will later aim to provide training and capacity building to root out white supremacy in HIV organizations' work.

"As a Black man living with HIV, I am very proud of our diverse coalition of organizations making this commitment to racial justice. Since the start of the HIV epidemic, AIDS United has played an active role to ensure that all who are living with and vulnerable to HIV receive the care they need. We are in a moment where the HIV sector—and the health care sector as a whole—must look inward and ask ourselves if our structures and decisions truly reflect the people and needs of those most impacted by the epidemic. The Public Policy Council has always pushed for responsiveness and inclusiveness across the HIV sector. This carries that work forward in these pressing times when health inequities are at our nation's forefront. We cannot end HIV without ending the systemic racism that is too often embedded in processes that result in the disparities in new infections and lack of access to care. I know it is time for change, and we are eager to put in the required work to end racist inequities and the imprint of systemic racism in our sector." — Jesse Milan Jr., President and CEO, AIDS United

"For 21 years, the Black AIDS Institute has led the fight to end HIV from a uniquely and unapologetically Black lens. With Black Empowerment as a central value, our leadership and our staff represent the communities we serve. By partnering with AIDS United and drawing from the intersectional expertise of the 55 Public Policy Council organizations, the Racial Justice Index will catalyze the prioritization of Black leadership, resource allocation, and capacity building. If we are committed to ending HIV within our lifetimes, rectifying the stain of white supremacy in how we do our work must be of the utmost priority." — Raniyah Copeland, President and CEO, Black AIDS Institute, co-chair of AIDS United's Racial Justice Index Committee

"HIV, HCV, and substance use disorder rage through Black and poor rural communities across the United States; it is critical the organizations are equipped to address the needs or Black people in the rural and Southern communities. The Racial Index will provide a tool for organizations to better develop staff and meet the growing needs of Black and brown communities."  — A. Toni Young, Founder and Executive Director, Community Education Group, co-chair of AIDS United's Racial Justice Index Committee

"We are proud of the AIDS United Public Policy Council for deepening our commitment to racial justice through the important and urgent work to create the racial justice index. This initiative will help us examine the HIV sector's commitment to racial equity and empower us all with the resources needed to end the HIV epidemic, starting with our own organizations."
— AIDS United Public Policy Council Co-Chairs Bill Keeton, Vivent Health vice president and chief advocacy officer, and Dr. Tyler TerMeer, Cascade AIDS Project CEO

"On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I join AIDS United's Public Policy Council to celebrate the launch of the Racial Justice Index, an initiative designed for HIV service organizations to conduct internal reviews aimed at eliminating racist structures, policies, and hiring practices within them. The HIV/AIDS epidemic's disproportionate impact on Black Americans is rooted in systemic racism and the Racial Justice Index provides a tool for HIV organizations to reassess their internal structures. The Racial Justice Index is a much needed mechanism to center racial equity at the core of the HIV sector's commitment to ending the HIV epidemic." — Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Co-Chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus

"I applaud AIDS United for launching the Racial Justice Index on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has had a devastating impact upon African Americans and other communities of color. In order for AIDS service and advocacy organizations to effectively address these devastating disparities, they must accurately reflect the demographics of the people who need their services." — Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Source: Black AIDS Institute