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2021's Amazing People Living with HIV: Activist Bryan C. Jones

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HIV activist Bryan C. Jones is a 61-year-old, same-gender-loving Black man from Cleveland who has been “thriving with an [HIV] diagnosis for 38 years.” Jones tells Plus, “I don’t really use pronouns but I tell folks my pronoun is M.F. because I’m relentless when it comes to speaking up for the rights and lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.”

Jones is the founder of The DIRT Advocacy Movement, which he first developed in 2013 in Cleveland when “it became apparent to me the best way to engage and educate Black folks was to identify places that provided services that dealt with the intersection needs, such as food pantries.”

DIRT is an acronym for Direct, Inspiring, Reachable, and Teachable, which Jones argues is “everything that many ASOs [AIDS Service Organizations] and funded agencies fail to…do. It’s a conversation for Black folks that look like us, live like us, and talk like us. It’s a conversation stripped away of all pretense. You must cultivate the ‘dirt’ [community] before the grass can grow. It doesn’t reinvent anything, it utilizes our cultural practices to help educate and build back up a sense of community.”

Quoting Audre Lorde, Jones says, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. One must meet the community at various intersections addressing many others needs.” The impact of this method is more than reducing HIV diagnoses in a community. “Most importantly their dignity and self-respect remains intact and is strengthened through the DIRT model.”

Jones believes that his community most needs “real and meaningful involvement of community-based organizations. The ASOs need to adopt a [local] community-based organization and bring them to the table utilizing racial equity, understanding that the smaller organizations don’t have the resources of the ASOs. But the ASOs must put value to the fact that they have the trust of the community, understand the needs, and address the intersections already.”

Looking back at the past year, Jones says he’s proud of presenting at the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco. A founding steering committee member and ambassador for Prevention Access Campaign’s U=U campaign, Jones “took the DIRT model to Canada,” when he was invited to speak with other U=U activists at Canada’s parliament when the nation became the first to officially endorse undetectable equals untransmittable. 

He adds, “Personally, I think my greatest accomplishment was having a young person living with HIV set up a meeting with me because they wanted to learn all they can and help present programs with me.” 

Jones would like to take this moment to amplify the HIV criminalization case of Nushawn Williams, “who is currently being held in upstate New York after completing his lengthy prison sentence. He was picked up from prison and has been held under civil confinement for over six years with no release or out date in sight.”

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