A pioneering leader in HIV policy and programs for many years, Vanessa Johnson has served on or worked with perhaps a dozen organizations, including the National Association of People With AIDS, National Black Women’s HIV/AIDS Network, and National Women and AIDS Collective. She’s currently the national training and leadership director for the Positive Women’s Network-USA. (She’s also a cofounder and board member — and has a law degree.) She initiated the founding of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus, and she serves as a board member for the National Working Positive Coalition.
Years before Johnson cofounded the Ribbon Consulting Group with Linda Scruggs, she helped form the Capital District African-American Coalition on AIDS, a nonprofit organization in Albany, N.Y., where she served as deputy executive director. She found out she was HIV-positive in 1990, and she’s spent the decades since developing and providing capacity-building assistance in the area of HIV with a special emphasis on women living with HIV.
One of the most laudable contributions: launching Common Threads, a microenterprise project for positive African-American women, in which they come together to explore the common threads in their lives that led to HIV (such as childhood trauma) and then learn to become advocates and entrepreneurs through a shared jewelry-making venture. The women often come together to sell their wares and share their skills at AIDS events around the country. The training sessions for the program are part healing, part business boot camp, but from a black poz women’s perspective.