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Julie Davids
New York, New York
 


Julie Davids
  Outspoken and fiercely political, Julie Davids does HIV prevention in a style not seen for years. A member of ACT UP Philadelphia for 15 years, she founded the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project to address the underlying challenges of HIV prevention including poverty, racism and homophobia.
New York's HIV Prevention Dynamo Listening to Julie Davids talk about her career could easily give a person the wrong impression. She admits to not having a positive outlook about her work. She openly shares that she spends a great deal of her spare time worrying. What does she worry about? The U.S. government's response to HIV and the state of the world in particular. From her conversation, at times, one could easily get the impression that maybe, just maybe, working on the frontlines of HIV is not the place for Julie Davids. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, those who work closely with her describe her as a tireless, passionate, diligent and tenacious woman who is actively creating our next generation of HIV prevention activists.

A native of Philadelphia who insists that surviving adolescence is the biggest adventure she has ever faced, there is far more to Julie than meets the eye. A graduate of Philly's Temple University with a degree in women's studies, her genuine concern for the state of humankind is as intimate as a mother's love for her newborn child. Her inner pain is reflected in that concern and it is in that place where one would find the passion that exists within her for social change.

Julie, has become a respected leader in the world of HIV/AIDS, is the founder and current executive director of CHAMP (Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project), which is designed to train participants to become more effective in local, national and international advocacy. She was also a member and organizer of ACT UP Philadelphia, Director of Education for Philadelphia FIGHT, as well as a member of the steering committee for the AIDS Treatment Activist Coalition (ATAC).

Julie is dedicated to modeling her work and interactions with all people after the world in which she one day hopes to live in . She possess a relentless respect for people and the human ability to confront challenges in their own lives. She is always open to new information and approaches to her work and is committed to sharing knowledge and experiences through what she calls, "circles of learning."

Julie feels that as a leader in the HIV/AIDS arena, she has an obligation to confront the underlying issues of discrimination, bias and injustice that have fueled the epidemic. It is her mission to create "pathways to power" that enable the people most affected by the virus to challenge the people and the institutions that perpetuate these inequalities.

Julie currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and enjoys spending time with her partner, bird watching and knitting, when she is not working or worrying.

PRACTICE

How long have you been doing prevention education?

I started out doing needle exchange in 1991 ... so, 14 years.
"The best thing about my job is working with different sorts of people who are committed to fighting for access to good HIV prevention."

Can you describe how your work has changed since you first started?

Well, I am the founder and executive director of CHAMP (Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project), which is committed to a prevention justice movement. HIV prevention has to address the underlying challenges: poverty, racism, homophobia.

If I were to follow you over a week, what would I see you do at work?

Lots of trainings around activism and policy, research and lots of reading!

What's the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is working with different sorts of people who are committed to fighting for access to good HIV prevention.

What's the worst thing about your job?

Having to beg for funding.

What have been your greatest successes in your work? Greatest failures?

Successes: Well ... I was a member of ACT UP Philadelphia for 15 years. There, I was involved in helping to reduce prices of AIDS drugs worldwide.

Failures: There is federal funding that goes towards programs that do the exact opposite of what we need.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an HIV prevention educator? Would other educators give a similar answer?

People are working hard to provide quality HIV prevention education and do not have the time to research the larger things that affect their work, such as government policies. That is a great challenge.

For the most part, what do you think is the biggest risk factor for HIV?

There are many. I can't say one thing!

Do you think that the HIV prevention efforts are sufficient? Anything you would change?

No. We need to lift the federal needle exchange funding ban and erase discriminatory laws against HIV prevention education for gay people. We must also look at changing laws for people that are or have been locked up.

What is the most important, memorable or useful thing you have learned from the people you work with?

Never underestimate people's potential to change.

How do you maintain a positive outlook and avoid burning out?

I don't have a positive outlook, but I do have a good life. When I get burned out, I simply take time off.

If you weren't a prevention educator what would you be?

A community activist of some kind!

What do you think is the biggest problem people living with HIV face today?

The biggest problem people living with HIV face today is poverty!

Who would you dedicate this award to if you could?

Kiyoshi Kuromiya, who was my mentor in AIDS activism and a good human being. Kiyoshi started the AIDS BBS (bulletin board service), which was the first Web page for HIV/AIDS information.

PERSONAL

Where did you grow up?

Outside of Philadelphia.
"The biggest problem people living with HIV face today is poverty!"

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a professional ice hockey player or a spy or a boy!

What kind of work do/did your parents do?

My parents are great and very different from each other as well as different from me. Their work isn't directly related to what I do, but they did have some influence on me.

When did you decide you wanted to be a prevention educator?

Well, I always knew that I wanted to fight discrimination and bias in society. I joined ACT UP Philadelphia because they took direct action. It was an organization where I could see others who were living great lives being exactly who they were, including people who knew that they were going to die of HIV in the coming years.

What other jobs have you had?

I have done some restaurant work. Worked in a fish store. Run different training programs ... community organizer ... staff writer for a weekly gay newspaper ...

Who were the most influential people in your life, both professionally and personally? Please explain why you have given this answer.

The folks in ACT UP Philadelphia and Jane Shull, the executive director of Philadelphia Fight. Also, Ella Baker, the civil rights leader who worked with youth to help them find a sense of their own power.

What do you do in your spare time?

Bird watching, knitting and worrying about government and the state of the country and world in particular.

Do you have a partner? What is your partner's job? Pets?

My partner is a fashion designer and professor of fiber arts. My cat, Ms. Min, was a long term survivor of diabetes who died three days after the election. I guess she couldn't take another four years!

Where do you live? What kind of community is it? What do you like/dislike about it?

I live in Brooklyn. I like that fact that it has good trains. It's cute!

If you had any place to live besides where you live now, where would you live?

You mean besides Philadelphia?! But, Providence, Rhode Island is the new Philadelphia.

What's the best vacation you ever had?

I'm not sure ... Nova Scotia, I suppose. I feel like I am yet to have my best vacation. I'm open for suggestions!

What's the biggest adventure you ever had?

Surviving adolescence! I grew up at really high risk of HIV and put myself in harm's way a lot.

What's currently on your bedside table for reading?

The Sexual Organization of the City, a book of Emily Dickinson's poems, back copies of The New Yorker and unread issues of AIDS education and prevention journals.

What book would you say has had the most impact on you?

I'm not really sure, but if Nina Simone had written a book it would have had the biggest impact on me. Oh, probably Close to Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, by David Wojnarowicz, a queer artist who was in ACT UP New York.

What kind of music do you like to listen to? Who are the artists you listen to the most?

I like eclectic Internet radio stations. I have a collection of weird, stereophonic, big band stuff from the sixties and lounge music. I used to be in a punk rock band, but I am not really into much of that anymore. I love Nina Simone.

Anything else you think it would be important that people reading this interview know about you?

People are using the drastic challenge of the AIDS epidemic to win government funding under the Bush administration to expand things like abstinence-only education, which is only going to spread the epidemic even further. We must find a way to speak out against the larger system of resources and power that exacerbate this epidemic. We cannot let ourselves be pitted against each other -- those advocating for what we need to fight AIDS in the United States, as well as across the world, because the same powers that be are in place concerning both.

Interview by Keith Green

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