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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

Keith Green: Becoming a "Different Kind of Researcher" in Communities of Color

February 3, 2011

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Keith Green

Keith Green

Keith Green had already been working in the HIV field for years -- and had been living with HIV since 1994 -- when he was first interviewed for's African-American HIV/AIDS Resource Center in 2006. Keith's compassion, sense of humor and thoughtful take on many issues have not only been an illuminating addition to He has also reached many through his outreach work in Chicago and his writings in Test Positive Aware Network's publication Positively Aware, for which he'd served as associate editor from 2005 to 2009. In 2008, Keith's interest in exploring the intersections between HIV and mental health concerns, particularly in marginalized communities, led him to a graduate program in social work. Now, with master's degree firmly in hand, Keith is helping to change the face of research as a project director for two HIV prevention studies targeting young men of color who have sex with men. I had the pleasure of checking in with Keith again recently about his prior goals, his current path -- and even a few thoughts on relationships. In the weeks since Keith and I spoke, he accepted an exciting new role as director of federal affairs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, though he'll continue to be involved in the studies about which he speaks in this interview.

Keith, welcome back to!

Thank you; it's good to be back.

What's new in your life?

Currently, I am the project director for two prevention studies being conducted through Stroger Hospital of Cook County. I'm back in Chicago. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with my master's in social work. I went into that program wanting to get a better understanding of mental health. The funny thing about getting a better understanding of mental health is that oftentimes we only focus on deficits, or on severe, persistent mental health concerns; we don't necessarily focus on it with respect to people's day-to-day mental well-being. For example, I may not meet the criteria for depression, but I could very well be depressed. And those people, I think, fall through the gaps.

Having worked in HIV for a little bit of time, I was beginning to have these ideas, or theories, or hypotheses, about the impact that unaddressed and undiagnosed mental health concerns have on HIV prevalence and incidence, particularly in communities of color. So I went into the program in Madison wanting to get a better understanding of mental health; a better understanding of policy around mental health concerns, and their treatment; and to be clear that I also recognize a population that is oftentimes overlooked in the conversation of mental health.


I did that, and I did it extremely. My field practicum for my master's program was in the State Mental Health Institute, where I worked on two units. One unit was for men who had committed crimes but who had been found not guilty by reason of mental defect. It was a minimum-security unit that was beginning to transition these men back out into their communities. In the other one, I worked with adolescent young men who had been deemed dangerous to themselves, or to others, and were on 72-hour holds, or extended holds, depending on what the situation was, so that further evaluation could be done. I kind of went in headstrong, and really, quite honestly, enjoyed that work. It was very humbling.

There was this guy who had a psychotic break: He ordered services from a call girl, and then he killed her, dismembered her and disposed of her body in a trash bin behind his house. I did not know any of this about this man when I first walked onto the floor and first shook his hand. So, to later find out these things about this man, it dawned on me that that is something that he did. That is something that happened, but he is as worthy of respect and dignity, and of me representing him as a social worker, as anyone else I may encounter.

I came to find out that this guy had suffered severe abuse as an infant, from birth until 2 years old, when he was taken out of his home. Just this unfortunate unfolding of events, but it really humbled me, and challenged me to connect with people on a different level, even now that I've graduated and come back home to Chicago.

I don't think that my focus changed; I think my perspective on how to address the issue changed, or broadened, in that I think that we have to look at more social and structural interventions that validate us as human beings who are worthy of dignity and respect.

Have you come across any HIV prevention interventions that incorporate the kind of approach you're talking about? Do you know of any such programs?

Yes. I don't think we always look at them as HIV prevention interventions, but they are, in fact, HIV prevention interventions. So, for instance, repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Because that, structurally, does not allow for me to be discriminated against. And we know the impact that discrimination and segregation can have on a person's mental well-being, which impacts their risks for HIV, which impacts their risks for not being adherent to medications or not even engaging in antiretroviral therapy at all. So something as big as that, as broad as that, has very large implications.

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More From This Resource Center

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HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More Personal Accounts on African Americans and HIV

This article was provided by TheBody.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Stella Jane (Oregon) Fri., Dec. 26, 2014 at 10:14 pm UTC

To:Keith Green Will u be Spokesperson or find one for REARGUARD Anal Protection?
SEE the GREAT BARRIER Brief red-taped, regulation raped, and hidden in plain site on awkward old tech
It got a National Institute of HEALTH GRANT during Clinton Administration. Then BUSH administration issued the GAG RULE on day ONE of the reign of repugs and millions of women died around the world.
There's REARGUARD Anal latex or silicone protection too but no online info available.
No corporate licenses to manufacture will be issued, to avoid others making profits from women /sex!!!
No more corporate mark-up on our private lives!!!

*** NIH STATISTICS are predicated on WHO SURVIVES with CERTAIN MEDICATIONS in a CLINICAL STUDY. They do not tally doctors' reports at all. THEREFORE it's nearly impossible to tell how many women had it and died, uncounted nor how many children in California schools w/no mother. Women get all STD 20 to 200 times easier than men.

PS MEDIA and RESEARCH persons: Please contact me if you don't understand that the center 4 dis-ease OBSERVATION does not control disease. The reporting changed, so no actual women's deaths are reported UNLESS they are using some HIV medicine IN a STUDY. So the statistics look like "GAY MEN" caused this problem, fueling haters everyday, and the women continue to die..... uncounted.
If you can form /fund a collective to manufacture these, you can get the license to begin. Everyone chooses their own level of participation. Example: A real estate agent rents an old dental laboratory, and a builder remodels it for required Good Manufacturing standards. Their good deeds for the community serve as marketing for their own enterprises. Any concerned citizens purchase equipment and donate it, while some use their volunteer status to provide prevention education. Each volunteer becomes a self-directed distributor of education and prevention. Mark-up is 2% MAXIMUM.
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Comment by: Yvonne (Ca) Tue., Oct. 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm UTC
I like to tip my hat off to Keith Green for educating hinself and others. I to am HIV and I am a recently grad person as well. I wanted to teach music, but there is so much talk about taking music out of schools. I have been made to feel that what I sstudied for is no more. So I have been faced with having to change my profession. I'm am a people person and have thought about maybe becomming a conselor or business adminstration; I have degree's in music, art and business. Now that i have read Kieth story, I think about helping those who are also positive (HIV?AIDS) in coping and living with the decease. Thank you Keith for opening up, and allowing me and other to know and feel important. The decease just lives in us, we don't have to livd in the decease There is hope for tommarrow; we should thank god for his grace and mercy. The wisdom, knowledge and the understing of it all God have it to us. I am ever so thankful for god's wisdom and most of all the underatnding of it all. Without God we would perish, but with him we have everlasting LIFE.
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Comment by: cristina m (chicago IL) Thu., Mar. 31, 2011 at 11:14 pm UTC

You are truly an inspiration to communities of color in this country. Thank you so much for the work that you do, thank you. Your story has touched me and those of us who live with loved ones that are +. Thank you for living your life to help others, and thank you for bringing warmth to my heart through your story of hope and inspiration. Keep on doing what you do...I'm praying for you!
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