Gerald Garth wears many hats. A long-time health and wellness writer, he’s now editor in chief of Chill (a new urban men’s magazine), and program manager at Arming Minorities Against Addiction and Disease. But in all of his roles, he takes a whole-person approach when it comes to helping people find their way to wellness.
“So often when it comes to healthcare, the person part is left out,” he complains. “A lot of healthcare providers will sort of see a person as a chart or a condition.”
“Our team really believes in looking at the whole person,” Garth says, about his work at AMAAD. “Being able to look at mental and emotional health as it relates to any type of health outcome is really important. It’s a major part of what my work looks like at AMAAD. So often, the intersection of mental health plays a larger part than we realize.”
But, unfortunately, he says, when it comes to the “priority of needs, sometimes mental health is pretty much notched down on the list. So, looking at opportunities to really include mental health in one’s personal health plan is very important.”
Garth says Chill, a new publication launched by the owners of The Advocate and Plus, is “designed for what I call the urban experience.” He defines “urban” as not a particular group, but an experience.
“So it’s really tailored and designed for men of color, particularly black men and Latino men, but really looking at all of the intersections of what it is to be a man, and notwithstanding sexuality.”
The magazine offers information on health and fitness, fashion, entertainment, and relationships. Garth says he’s excited about “using this platform to bring awareness and attention to things that are important, but also inviting men into spaces that they might not otherwise have had an opportunity to.”
Prior to joining the start-up team at Chill, Garth was deputy editor of The Rouge Collection, a lifestyle publication for young urban professionals in the South; the West Coast correspondent for Sheen magazine, a black women’s health-and-beauty magazine; a health and wellness columnist for Heart & Soul (a publication for black women) and a contributor at Message, Griot, Plus, and The Advocate magazines. Somehow he’s also working toward a master’s degree in nonprofit management
It’s no surprise that Garth ended up working in media. “Writing has always been very important to me. I’ve always used words as an outlet.”
But he actually started out in the finance department when he joined Black AIDS Institute, in part to get involved in HIV work.
A 30-something Baton Rouge, La., native, Garth moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to pursue acting while working for the Black AIDS Institute, the policy center dedicated to reducing HIV health disparities by mobilizing black institutions and individuals. As a black gay man, he says, he’d grown up aware of “what HIV looks like among my community… I wanted to see how I could loan my skillset and voice to the work.”
The organization’s leadership soon saw how passionate Garth was about broadcasting the work BAI was doing, and his willingness to take on projects outside the scope of his official work,
“So, during my time with that organization I was really able to do some innovative things… and really look at how storytelling through health and wellness impacted health outcomes.” The one-time accounting assistant worked his way up to a programs specialist, along the way assisting in nearly all aspects of the Institute’s media and communications work, including the creation of its national newsletter Black AIDS Weekly, and contributing to other digital and print publications.
From that springboard, Garth says he saw a wave of opportunities come with other publications in health writing.
“I was able to lead a column entitled Positive with Heart & Soul magazine, which looked at highlighting women who did great things in the fight against HIV. I had a great chance to meet and work with some wonderful people there and an opportunity to contribute to a number of non-traditional health spaces. Being able to bring a lens of health that otherwise might not have been there.”
For example, with The Rouge Collection, Garth was able to bring “a lens of [mental] and sexual health,” to the publication, “and really look at how that played and folded into overall health.
He does something similar in his gig with Arming Minorities Against Addiction and Disease, which provides programs and services to communities of color in South Los Angeles.
“Black and brown people are disproportionally impacted by a number of disparities, be it HIV, incarceration, or substance recovery,” Garth says. As manager of program operations at AMAAD, Garth works to address those disparities both directly and by linking clients to essential support services that provide access to food, workforce development, legal aid, and needs “outside of just HIV” prevention and care.
The actor turned activist helps create events and social experiences for LGBTQ people of color and says doing so is also about the whole-person care approach to health. AMAAD’s program for black gay and bi men, Fierce, Fabulous, and Free (or F3), for example, is “intentionally designed to look at how to create affirming spaces,” says Garth.
“One thing that’s great is that our programs [at AMAAD] aren’t exclusive to LGBT people, but really look at fostering healthy relationships, building community and brotherhood. And really allowing safe spaces for dialogue and interactions.”
An ordained minister, Garth wants to create safe spaces to talk about faith, too. He sees faith as playing “a major part of our mental health.”
“In the black community in particular, the family and the church are probably the two strongest institutions.” But he acknowledges, that he, like many LGBT people first struggled to find a way to “reconcile faith and sexuality.” A lot of people have experienced isolation or depression in relation to their faith experience, says Garth. But he is hopeful that things have begun to change
“I’m really excited to see conversations continue. Creating safe spaces to where concerns can be addressed on both ends is really necessary.”
Gerald Garth’s 5 Tips for Healthy Living with HIV:
Set goals. I know when we look at overall health, it can be pretty overwhelming between the HIV and other life concerns, Garth says, but it’s still important to make plans for the future and establish goals, which will help you set priorities, provide motivation, and remind you what is really important.
Find your spiritual practice. I definitely want to [reiterate] the spirituality piece. Faith looks like a lot of different things for different people but having the type of practice that helps you sort of re-center is essential.
Connect with others. Instead of isolating yourself, it’s important to engage with other people, Garth says, recommending people find an outlet. It could be a hobby, it could be journaling, something creative, you could join a support group. It could be meditation, it could be yoga classes, it could be volunteering someplace. But something that really gives a sense of connectedness, I think, is really helpful.”
Take care of yourself. Don’t forget to get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and eat healthy food. Eating well and resting well: Those play a big part in overall wellness, including your mental health.
Remember you are more than your HIV. Don’t let any one thing, especially a health condition, define your entire being. Tackling your HIV, and seeking mental health are just elements in treating your whole self. “If an individual, particularly with HIV can sort of look at themselves as a whole person and address the HIV, mental health, and overall health as part of their personal plan, I think that will be a setup for a great life.”