Black Women’s Health Imperative – Helping Black Women Achieve Sexual Wellness

Valerie L. Rochester, MPA
Sexual Health Programs Consultant
Black Women’s Health Imperative

Recent surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that while Black women remain the fourth largest population of new HIV infections, the rate of new infections among Black women from 2005 to 2014 decreased by 42% with lifetime risk for Black women contracting HIV going down from 1 in 32, to 1 in 34.  And in other news, a December 2016 report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics states that while other population groups experienced a slight decrease in overall life expectancy, Black women remained steady at 78 years on average.  This information, along with findings from the Black Women’s Health Imperative’s (Imperative) recently released Index US – the first ever index studying healthy Black women – demonstrate that Black women are doing something right, and there are lessons we can learn and apply from what works, as we look for more strategic ways to challenge health conditions that continue to affect us – like HIV. We are now at a critical crossroads that requires promoting systematic changes in how we look at and discuss the overall health and wellness of Black women in this country. We believe this can be accomplished by identifying and seizing opportunities that move the needle toward achieving improved overall sexual health outcomes and reduced HIV infection rates among Black women- using lifestyle change and sexual health/reproductive justice as the interrelated frameworks.  The Imperative is committed to helping Black women get to zero new HIV infections – promoting collaboration and dialogue with women in communities and women’s groups to ensure Black women have equal access to the latest prevention and treatment opportunities available.  Using a whole-woman approach, we are working to ensure Black women are supported in their efforts to have control over their physical, emotional and financial wellness; to become empowered and take control of their sexual health and reproductive destiny; increase awareness and understanding of their personal risk for HIV and other STIs; and promote adoption of sex-positive, prevention and risk reduction behaviors.

bwhi-logoOur HIV prevention work is grounded in taking the real-life circumstances, faced by real women every day into consideration; exploring the social, environmental and psychosocial factors that impact the health and well-being of Black women. We support the design and delivery of Black women-centered, culturally and gender considerate health protection initiatives, focused on enhancing self-image, self-efficacy and self-determination to build personal agency and ensure bodily autonomy and increase awareness of external impact of structural barriers and social determinants of health.   We address the ongoing challenge of HIV by ensuring Black women have access to the latest information, tools and strategies to best protect themselves and their sexual health…including PrEP; and explore every opportunity for bridging the disconnect surrounding the factors driving infection rates among Black women.

For more information about Black Women’s Health Imperative initiatives, visit:

New Leaders On the BLOC: People of Color Living with HIV

Welcome to 2017 – a new year with new goals to achieve brings tremendous excitement especially for our Building Leaders of Color Living with HIV [BLOC] Project. BLOC’s mission is to cultivate and support 75 HIV positive leaders of color with a focus on Transgender women of color living with HIV. The first National Training designated for Transgender women of color living (TWOC) with HIV is scheduled for Orlando, Florida in March 2017.

Our team has selected the top 20 TWOC living with HIV applicants for the 2017 National BLOC Training. The TWOC applicants hale from varies states to include New York, Mississippi, California, Minnesota, Georgia and Illinois just to name a few.  The advocacy and professional platforms held by the TWOC applicants are phenomenal; their levels of community engagement and roles range from recruitment specialists, peer educators, HIV testers, health & food service industries. The National BLOC Training will focus on a variety of areas to help prepare the applicants to be full, active, and engaged participants on planning bodies, medical and support care teams, boards of directors, and other efforts to address the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  The National Training will feature these topics:

  • Addressing the Epidemic:  Greater Involvement of Persons with AIDS (GIPA)
  • Introduction to Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and Legislation
  • The Goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy [NHAS
  • Health Literacy and Health Numeracy
  • Utilizing HIV Care Continuums to demonstrate system evaluation
  • The Role of Trauma and Stigma in HIV Care and Prevention
  • Traits and Characteristics of Leaders
  • Action Planning for Transformational Leadership

Three (3) Regional trainings for leaders of color living with HIV will be planned and announced by February 2017.  The selection process for Regional training participants is underway and will culminate by January 31, 2017.

The BLOC community partnership between NMAC, Transgender Law Center (Positively Trans), Positive Women’s Network, USPLHIV (United States People Living with HIV) Caucus, and THRIVE SS offers an abundance of resources aimed at ending the HIV epidemic in America.

As the new BLOC Recruitment and Retention Specialist and an HIV positive leader of color, I’m inspired to aim even higher to achieve the mission of this project. The opportunity to be a part of BLOC opens a new door to the journey ahead, to aid in the building and support of a new generation of leaders of color living with HIV. – Charles Shazor Jr. – Recruitment & Retention Specialist

The RACE Equity and Health Literacy Framework Training – Take the Journey

Testing and Capacity Building Supervisor
Julie Fitch, MA
Louisiana Department of Health
Office of Public Health-STD/HIV Program


Louisiana Office of Public Health-STD/HIV Program (SHP) is proud of the 2016 collaboration with NMAC in offering the RACE Equity Framework training across our state. 118 staff from SHP and nine community-based organizations (CBOs) have attended 8 of these trainings thus far, and we look forward to more in the future! SHP and its partner organizations have been actively engaged in a process to address HIV disparities in our state, particularly as they impact communities of color, since 2013.

As part of this effort, Undoing Racism workshops by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond have been offered, and when we learned about the RACE Equity Framework training in early 2016, this was immediately recognized as an opportunity to build on the work begun with Undoing Racism. The RACE Equity Framework training can certainly stand on its own, but it has served as a wonderful complement to the Undoing Racism workshop in that it takes participants on a journey from exploring how institutional racism functions in American society to how it functions and can be addressed in HIV/STD prevention and services work.

SHP staff have been told multiple times, from a variety of participants, that the RACE Equity Framework training has helped them synthesize and think concretely about the analysis of institutional racism from Undoing Racism. Indeed, the NMAC training provides individuals and organizations time to action plan the steps they can take in moving toward health equity for all. We look forward to continued partnership with NMAC in 2017 and hope to bring leadership from the various CBOs together to continue and enrich the strategizing and action planning begun last year. SHP highly recommends this training for other health departments, health care systems, community based organizations, and others interested in addressing racial disparities in HIV and STD.

Additionally, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy provides a clear directive that increasing the effectiveness of HIV prevention and care in the United States requires a shift from focusing solely on individual behaviors to including structural and policy level interventions. Lack of understanding of the structural factors affecting access to and engagement in HIV testing, linkage, and retention in care in the past served to perpetuate a focus on individual behaviors for HIV prevention and care and were insufficient to address HIV inequities among people of color, thereby allowing these disparities to persist. It will take all of us in this field consciously working toward equity to end the HIV epidemic in the United States, and the NMAC RACE Equity Framework training is a great place to start, or continue, that work.

Cultivating Young Leaders under Uncertain Times

Benjamin Di’Costa
Activist & Public Speaker
Leaders have a tremendous ability—and profound responsibility—to cultivate the next generation of leaders. How well we do this will determine how successfully others will lead our fight in this upcoming administration.   In the past 2 months I’ve been asking my peers where do we go from here?   Or how can we as young leaders lead people of all ages and truly inspire them to end HIV?

Youth of color around the U.S feel fear and despair when they think about what this administration could mean for their future. While this generation has the most at stake when it comes to new HIV transmission, many young people don’t know where to start in addressing this huge issue. Many youth are looking for ways to be a part of the solution, but need the training and support to take the next step.

I believe years of experience, knowledge and deeply rooted connections in activism are what make our community great. Yet, does time on this earth alone make a leader noteworthy? Or is it the title that goes under your name at your organization? History tells of young trailblazers like Joan of Arc, who led the French Army at only seventeen; of Latinx activist like Pedro Zamora who gave HIV a mainstream face by the age of 20. These young leaders thrived without a lifetime of developed knowledge, and instead created experiences as they went.

Time has proven that the valor of a leader within this epidemic is not defined by their age, but instead by their raw ability to inspire others to follow them towards the execution of a specific vision, which we can now see, and end HIV. And that’s where I see the HIV epidemic ending in my generation. It is when we unite and say that powerful phrase “you are not alone” from a unique shared personal experience that young leaders are be able to motivate young and old alike, in addition to bridging the age gaps in between.