The Milwaukee community is rallying around Ronnie Grace, a longtime HIV educator and LGBTQ+ activist currently battling stage 4 liver and bile cancer.
“At least a dozen people took to the stage at a recent community gathering to let Grace know how much he is appreciated and loved as he takes on the latest challenge in life,” James E. Causey wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Grace is an HIV prevention program coordinator and peer navigator for Diverse & Resilient, which works to improve the health of Black and brown LGBTQ+ people in southeastern Wisconsin. He’s a Black gay man who’s been living with HIV since the mid-1980s.
At the event feting Grace, held August 20, fellow Diverse & Resilient staffers and others praised him as a tireless worker for the LGBTQ+ community and people living with AIDS. He is a “selfless person” with an “Energizer Bunny” attitude, said Gerry Coon, director of grants and budget support at Diverse & Resilient.
“Ronnie is the epitome of what a Black gay man should be. He’s educated, loving, understanding, and all-inclusive, and he’s never disrespected anyone on their journey,” said Joshua Jones, who’s been friends with Grace for two decades.
Jones also “brought the house down when he sang Patti LaBelle’s ‘You Are My Friend,’” Causey reported.
Justin Roby, director of finance and human resources for Diverse & Resilient, said Grace mentored him and encouraged him to apply for the position. “I would not be doing this work had Uncle Ronnie not taken me under his wing,” Roby said. He announced that the Libation Lounge, a space for community events at Diverse & Resilient, is being renamed Grace Lounge.
Causey lauded the gathering for honoring Grace while he is alive. “Giving Grace his flowers while he could appreciate them was beautiful, and I would like to see more acts of kindness like this in our city,” Causey wrote.
Grace told attendees he came to the event after being discharged from a hospital the same day. “I’m just overjoyed right now; you don’t know what this is doing for my spirit,” he said. Grace is going to Houston in September for “potentially life-saving cancer treatment” at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Causey noted.