Why A Love Letter?

Kim Ferrell, NMAC’s Deputy Director for Operations, came into my life 18 years ago. I was a broken man struggling to hide my damage. The epidemic had taken a heavy toll. I suffered trauma from losing too many and rage for how long it took to get treatments that worked. Back then I pushed down and denied my emotions and pain. Kim gave me the gift of unconditional love. She was always in my corner helping me to be a better man, even when others stopped believing in me. Even when I stopped believing in myself.

The theme for the 2023 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is a Love Letter to Black Women. The spark was because Kim is retiring. This love letter thanks her and all the Black Women who fight to end the epidemic.

NMAC’s story would not have happened without Kim. She is our backbone and north star. Staff and the board depend on her counsel, understanding, and good judgement. If you need to get something accomplished, you know to go to Kim. I am proud and honored to celebrate her and all the Black Women leaders who changed our world.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters will keynote the Opening Plenary on Wednesday, September 6th. She is the original OG Black Woman leader who fought with us since the beginning of the epidemic. I first met the Congresswomen back when she was in the California State Assembly. She was close to Archbishop Carl Bean (Minority AIDS Project), so our paths crossed in too many hospital rooms and funerals. NMAC continues to work with her and Congresswoman Barbara Lee on the Minority AIDS Initiative. The MAI is part of her iconic congressional legacy NMAC hopes to turn this legislation into a bill to be named after her, the Maxine Waters Minority AIDS Initiative. Unfortunately, the current Congress makes that impossible.

The conference is almost sold out. Plenaries will be crowded and can get claustrophobic. We ask for patience and understanding. Please let attendees who need support to stand or walk to enter in advance of the rush. The gathering may trigger feelings, so trained counselors are available to help. Contact the USCHA office for more information. The meeting also provides free childcare, but you must register in advance.

The Black Women Who Founded NMAC

This year’s meeting is a love letter to all cis and trans Black Women who work to end the epidemics of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis. I remember the Black Women who were core to NMAC’s history. Two NMAC board members that we lost way too soon, Pandora Singleton and Janet Mitchell. Pandora started Project Azuka, and Janet was a doctor at Harlem Hospital. Rashida Abdul-Khabeer (formerly Hassan), Sandra McDonald, and Marie St Cyr were founding board members along with Suki Ports. Rashida started BEBASHI, Sandra started Outreach, and Marie started WARN (Women’s AIDS Resource Center). Then there are all the powerful Black Women in the field. The reality that there are so many leaders speaks volumes about the important roles Black Women hold in the fight to end HIV, STDs and Hepatitis.

Toni Newman and Lauren Miller show the importance of having trans leaders as staff. They work with NMAC’s TGNC (Transgender & Gender Nonconforming) CAP to bring diverse voices to NMAC and the conference. Gender is a social construct and not binary. People fall all along the spectrum. NMAC acknowledges and supports all the nonbinary and gender nonconforming leaders in our movement. USCHA is dedicated to Black Women and stands in solidarity with all genders.

NMAC’s Coalition for Justice and Equality Across Movements has partnered with the National Action Network and Drum Major Institute for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Join us on Aug 26 because too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines (Mow60.com #MOW60). If you want to march with NMAC at the 60th March on Washington, Saturday, August 26th, at 11 am, and receive a Coalition t-shirt, please email Destiny Pearson

Look online for the latest USCHA information. While the city no longer requires proof of vaccination, USCHA encourages everyone to wear masks. Please be up to date with vaccines. If you feel sick, isolate in your room, and call the conference office.

Part of me thinks my Asian ancestors would be appalled by such a public display of affection, and maybe that’s why I wrote this letter. I wanted to show Kim that I was listening and to let Black Women know how thankful NMAC is for your leadership and courage. Our movement is stronger and more compassionate because of you. We are forever grateful.

Yours in the Struggle,

Paul Kawata