The national nonprofit Black AIDS Institute has been called out for the abrupt departure of its former CEO, Raniyah Copeland, after two and a half years in the position.
The Los Angeles-based organization focuses on HIV education, prevention, and treatment among African-Americans, a group disproportionately affected by HIV.
In a letter to the institute’s stakeholders and community on August 20, the chair of BAI's board, Grazell Howard, wrote, “Raniyah Copeland no longer serves as our chief executive officer.” There appears to be no current or interim CEO of the organization.
HIV advocates, including several current or former BAI board members and former CEO Phill Wilson, responded by creating a petition on Change.org last week. They condemned the dismissal of Copeland and demanded the current BAI board resign.
“For 22 years, the Black AIDS Institute has stayed committed to ending the HIV epidemic in Black communities, with Black communities. Synchronized with remarkable scientific progress, we’ve developed lifesaving programs, trained leaders, mobilized and educated communities, and partnered with governments,” the Change.org text read.
The petition insinuated that accusations of harassment, possibly by Copeland against a BAI board member, led to her departure.
“Today, the current board members are disconnected from the HIV community. The cumulative effect of their failed governance, refusal to ensure that the composition of the board represents the community it serves, and unwillingness to support next-gen leadership or address their harassment complaints that are misaligned with the organization’s values - are all undermining BAI’s evolution,” it continued.
In a separate letter online, HIV advocates voiced support for the ousted Copeland.
“She has consistently, and correctly, demanded that the needs and leadership of the Black communities who bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic be centered in the national response,” the letter stated.
The letter expressed concerns over the handling of her dismissal and questioned the motives behind it.
Copeland had recently been appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
The August 20 letter from Board Chair Howard does not give any reason for Copeland’s dismissal, only stating that, “Yesterday the board of directors voted to move forward with a leadership reorganization for the Black AIDS Institute which has been contemplated since January of this year. In doing so, we are announcing Raniyah Copeland no longer serves as our Chief Executive Officer.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Copeland served in the position for less than a year. We regret the error.