Jesse Milan, Jr. is not only a tireless community advocate and nationally recognized expert on HIV and AIDS policies and programs, he is also a dear friend and personal inspiration.
When I sat down with Jesse and asked him about his most proud accomplishment, he smiled as he reflected on his experiences traveling with the U.S. State Department as an expert on HIV. He was sent on three different speaking tours to seven African nations, two of which lasted a month each. The tours were exhausting and challenging, he shared, but he relished the opportunity to speak about HIV with thousands of people from villages, schools and churches, board rooms and conference centers. Everywhere he went he was showered with appreciation.
When I asked him what he still hopes to achieve, especially in his role as president and CEO of AIDS United, he explained that his biggest hope is that he can be an asset and ally to advocates in states across the American South — as they fight to achieve legislative changes that eliminate HIV criminalization, expand Medicaid, and promote LGBT rights. He added that he still hopes to help individuals overcome stigma and feel empowered to disclose.
In response to my question about the biggest challenge facing him and the organization, he responded finding new funders and individual donors to join the fight against HIV. Too many believe the epidemic is over and think their help and their funds are no longer needed.
“I’m humbled and surprised,” he replied when I asked him how he felt being honored by Plus. “I chose for this chapter of my life to stay in this work because it has a deep and personal meaning to me. This honor helps me know I made the right choice.”
As I prepare to retire, and move on from the organization that I’ve dedicated 10 years of my life to, I can think of no better person to entrust the leadership of AIDS United (AIDSUnited.org) and its critical mission, than my friend Jesse.
— Ronald Johnson has been fighting HIV since he first volunteered at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1984. The former New York City AIDS czar and current vice president of policy and advocacy at AIDS United is retiring after a storied career.