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Remember Our History: More Musings From Paul Kawata

By Paul A. Kawata

October 11, 2011

This article was provided by the National Minority AIDS Council; Paul Kawata is the organization's executive director.

Occupy Wall Street has captured our nation's imagination. This demonstration has given voice to many Americans who feel that our government has to do more to rebuild our economy and meet our needs. They are tired of Wall Street's excesses, Washington bail outs, and the lack of accountability for our economic collapse.

In many ways, this demonstration reminds me of the early days of Act-Up. Both movements have been inspired by a sense that people had nothing to lose. They felt like their voices weren't being heard and their only resort was to take to the streets and speak truth to power.

Right now, the Congressional Super Committee is meeting to identify possible ways to reduce the federal budget by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed slashing $32.7 million from the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention and $1 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the health care reform bill for FY2012. At the same time, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) tripled the House budget for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court from $500K to $1.5 million.

If or when these cuts occur, they could have a devastating impact on our ability to fight HIV/AIDS and achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The irony is that these cuts would happen at the same time that we could end the AIDS epidemic. We finally have the science to support real solutions to significantly reduce HIV transmission. At times like this, I find it both helpful and important to reflect on why we do the work that we do.

Why We Fight!

This is a story about my friend Tim Offut. Tim was one of the founders of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) and the first executive director of the Kupona Network in Chicago. Kupona was the first agency to do HIV/AIDS work on the south side of Chicago within the African American community. Unfortunately, due to a lack of adequate funding, Kupona has since been forced to close its doors.

Tim had this amazing laugh/giggle. He ran NMAC's first strategic planning process and later became the chair of our board. After working in Chicago for several years, Tim moved to San Francisco where he was the coordinator of the Minority AIDS Initiative with the SF AIDS Office.

My last memory of Tim was holding an NMAC board meeting around his hospital bed. Tim was really sick; he was barely conscious. Since he couldn't come to the board meeting, we brought the board meeting to him. It may seem insane to have a board meeting around a hospital bed, but we were living in insane times. Tim passed away a few days after our meeting, I'm not sure he knew we were in the room, but we knew.

I couldn't go to his memorial. It was too much. Too much sadness; too many tears. I couldn't bear repeating another "I will always remember you." At that point in the epidemic, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt like everyone I loved was dying.

Once again, history is calling on us. We have the knowledge to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but do we have the political will? As more and more cuts are proposed, we may find ourselves, once again, driven to take our voices to the streets. As the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has reminded me, like Act-Up before it, we must always be willing to stand up and fight against injustice.

I remember Tim. His story is our movement's story. I honor him and all of the other Tims out there. We are a movement of sacrifice and loss and we should never forget our history. As we are called once again to lead the charge to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I ask again ... Are You Ready?

We need to talk now more than ever. We need to find solutions to the challenges facing our entire movement. Even if we don't all agree, it's important for us to communicate and share strategies. I look forward to seeing you at this year's United States Conference on AIDS ( As we get closer to the meeting, I will share more details. I look forward to seeing you in Chicago.

Other USCA Items

  1. USCA Agenda
  2. Many Women One Voice
  3. iPad Deadline
  4. HIV Prevention Justice Leadership Assembly
  5. 2011 USCA Sponsors

USCA Agenda

Wednesday, November 9
4:00 p.m. -- 7:00 p.m. Registration
Location: Sheraton Chicago Ballroom Foyer, 4th Level

Thursday, November 10
7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. -- Morning Worship Service Coordinated by The Balm in Gilead

Location: Mayfair, 2nd Level

8:00 a.m. -- 10:00 a.m.: Opening Plenary Breakfast
Opening Plenary Breakfast: Ending the AIDS Epidemic
Location: Sheraton Chicago Ballroom, 4th Level

10:30 a.m. -- 5:30 p.m.: Institutes

For the rest of the agenda go to

iPad Deadline
Friday, October 21st

NMAC has undertaken several changes to ensure that this year's conference is more "green," including making most of the conference materials available in electronic/digital format. As a result, I like to think that this year's USCA is The iPad Conference. NMAC is giving away one iPad to a registered attendee who can tell us "how they are getting their agency ready for the big changes."

Tell us how your agency is getting ready to transform its services in response to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Treatment as Prevention or High Impact Prevention. Please limit your response to no more then 100 words.

The best responses will be put on our web page ( and constituents can vote for their favorite. Email your response by Friday, October 21st to The finalists' work will go up in late October with voting open until Tuesday, November 8th. The winning response will receive their iPad at the Opening Plenary on Nov 10th at 8:00 AM.

HIV Prevention Justice Leadership Assembly
Wednesday, November 9th

A Message from Julie Davids
Director of National Advocacy and Mobilization, AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Coordinator, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA)

This year's assembly is free, and we are doing it the day before The United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in hopes that more of you would already be in town. Let me tell you some of the reasons we need you -- yes, you -- with us:

  1. Tell us what you are seeing, what you are doing, and what we can do together. The movement for HIV prevention justice is growing and vital. But there's so much we could say, and so much we could work on. And it's not up to me, or even our fabulous steering committee, to decide how we proceed. This movement is about all of us. We can learn a lot and do a lot through emails and the phone, but when we get together in person, we take it to the next level.
  2. Our movement is rooted in participatory leadership ... and that makes our gatherings even better. Bear with me for a quote: The participatory leadership paradigm is based on respect and engagement. It constructively focuses energy in every human to human encounter. A more advanced, more democratic and more effective model of leadership, it harnesses diversity, builds community, and creates shared responsibility for action. It deepens individual and collective learning, yielding real development and growth ... Participatory leaders use every meeting as a key mechanism through which to release potential. ( What's that mean as far as November 9? A few things: This gathering WILL NOT BE BORING. You will not be sitting around listening to "experts" with just a few minutes at the end to ask questions or make comments. You will be crafting the HIV prevention justice movement as active participants and key leaders. You will gain and practice participatory leadership tools so YOUR MEETINGS WILL NOT BE BORING once you return, helping you harness the power and excitement of these techniques to release the potential of leaders where you live. After the Assembly, you will continue to be an active part of the democratic HIV prevention justice movement, at the level of involvement that YOU choose. There is no right or wrong level of involvement in our movement -- all voices are valued and needed as we move forward, regardless of where we live, what we do, or how much time you have to dig into our issues and campaigns. (And in fact, if you can't come, you can count on us to come back to you online with the proposals for moving forward, giving you time to weigh in -- it's just how we do what we do.) Ready to sign up for the November 9 HIV Prevention Justice Leadership Assembly? Need more reasons to come? Keep reading!
  3. Perhaps most importantly, we will build the power to win real change through this assembly and our ongoing work. Times are not easy right now, but power and policies are in flux -- and that means change can and must happen. From Wall Street occupations to every Main Street AIDS Service Organization, we are not just fighting to survive, but seeking to transform the way we do our work. We will harness the challenges to create a more strategic, more equitable and effective HIV/AIDS response that also addresses the social and economic realities that fuel this epidemic.
  4. A special note for the skeptical, the overwhelmed, the tired and the frustrated: Are you unsure about HIV prevention justice, or feeling lost in the call for action in a time of so many service challenges? Just plain tired of fighting? We really need you too, to make sure our vision, goals and activities respect people like you as important members of our community! We'll have 2 different strategic meetings at our leadership assembly: One will build out a creative and strategic communication plan for talking to key audiences and decision-makers about HIV prevention justice. The other will sketch out a powerful, practical and passionate plan for policy and organizing efforts for the next 12 months of our movement. We need you. Can you join me on the afternoon of November 9 in Chicago?

2011 USCA Sponsors

2011 Platinum USCA Sponsors
Gilead, Janssen, Merck, ViiV Healthcare

2011 USCA Gold Sponsors
American Airlines, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Walgreens

2011 USCA Silver Sponsors
Astellas, Boehringer Ingelheim, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata
Executive Director

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