The Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition, or BLACC, is an AHF affinity group dedicated to social justice work within Black communities across the country. On this week’s episode, we speak with the group’s national chair, Imara Canady, about its origins, mission, and the future of BLACC and other affinity groups at AHF.
Back to BLACC
Learning from and learning about the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition
Imara Canady is AHF’s National Director for communications and Community Engagement as well as the National Chair for the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition.
CORE TOPICS + DETAILS:
[3:00] - Made to Serve a Purpose
The Origins of BLACC
In the beginning, AHF founder Michael Weinstein recognized both the responsibility and opportunity to serve the Black community through AHF. Calling on Black board members, he asked for ways to more deeply and authentically connect with that community.
This birthed the ABACT, or AHF Black AIDS Crisis Task Force. In just a few short years, the group had built strong coalitions in communities around the nation, and was able to branch out into other initiatives. These were the beginnings of BLACC.
[11:20] - Racism as a Public Health Crisis
Canady’s perspective on broadening the scope of public health
Imara has found that the message of racism as a public health crisis has strongly resonated in communities across the nation.
“We’ve been socialized to understand the definition of public health from a very linear definition, but really when you look at public health, there are many layers.”
People of color have disproportionately low access to healthy food and general healthcare facilities, leading to lower quality of life and higher risk of medical conditions. Addressing systemic racism directly impacts physical health.
[13:47] - Building Back Trust
Repairing wounds between the healthcare industry and the Black community
BLACC has been hard at work within local Black communities, building a relationship of trust. They started by meeting people and working together to understand their needs, not just instantly pushing the HIV/AIDS approach.
They’ve also earned the trust of communities by not only providing financial support, but being a vocal supporter around issues that truly matter— whether it’s smaller organizations that are disenfranchised or individuals who feel marginalized.
It’s about saying, “Let’s work on these issues together.”
[18:18] - Get Involved
Discover how you can help
Want to help with BLACC’s mission? If you’re within the AHF family of employees, you can send an email to AHFBLACC@ahf.org. Otherwise, you can visit BLACC.net and request more information. No matter what community you're in, it'll link you to the local chapter of BLACC in your area. That’s a great place to start.
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Hello, and welcome to the After Hours Podcast. I'm your host, Lauren Hogan, serving as your liaison to take you through this journey to learn more about AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Before we start the show, please make sure to remember to check out the show notes so you can follow along. Now let's get started.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the After Hours Podcast. As always, I'm your host, Lauren Hogan, and today I have a very special guest with me. He is a colleague, a bit of a mentor, and I would say a dear friend, Mr. Imara Canady, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Lauren. Great to be here.
So we're happy to have you today because we actually get to highlight one of our AHF Affinity Groups, BLACC, which stands for the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition, just powered by AHF. And we also get to touch on a bit of a sensitive topic that I'm glad that we actually have the space to even discuss. So before we really get into it, I just want you to formally introduce yourself and your role here at AHF and the plethora of things that you do for this organization.
So my name is Imara Canady. I am actually based out of Atlanta, Georgia, and I am our National Director for Communications and Community Engagement as well as the National Chair for the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition, otherwise known as BLACC, B-L-A-C-C. And predominantly I work with, of course, you and Jed and our small but mighty comms team to help to tell the AHF story, building relationships with media outlets and journalists from across the country to help deepen the relationship and talk about all the wonderful things that AHF and our affiliates and our subsidiaries are doing to make a difference in communities all across this country. As well as I work with a team of about 40 or 50 folks across the country that are a part of local chapters of BLACC in deeply engaging the work and the mission and the focus of so much of the social justice work that AHF is involved in an authentic and organic and culturally sensitive way in Black communities across the country.
We can tell you're a part of communications. So just to kick things off, just tell us a little bit more about BLACC and how and why it got started.
So, BLACC was started... I really need to give the real date cause I always add a year from when I said it from last year, but it's probably been about nine or 10 years ago. And it was really when our leadership and our CEO, Michael Weinstein, recognized that there was more opportunity for us to more deeply connect in an authentic way with the Black American community, recognizing that so many of our employees are Black Americans. And so many of the clients that we serve, definitely across the country, I would dare to say across the globe, are Black and specifically of course domestically Black Americans. And so he basically charged the Black leaders of the organization from across the country tied into some of our Black board members and said, "Hey, you guys figure out what we can do to more deeply and authentically connect with the Black community."
So out of that was birthed what was called the ABACT, the AHF Black AIDS Crisis Task Force, and then the really great news is going into that work about a year or two years into it, maybe three almost, is that we recognized that something really phenomenal had happened to move from just being lightly entrenched in the community to really having built coalitions outside of AHF with Black leaders of every level, from our grassroots community leaders to many of our civic leaders that were deeply ingrained in the work of impacting Black Americans around sexual health and wellness and many of the social justice issues that we know disproportionately impact Black folks that then could easily lead to new HIV diagnosis. And so strategically, and then putting on the marketing hat as well, we said that we needed to change the name from ABACT and really get rid of that subconscious thoughts around a task force, which a task force has created to have an ending time period to really define what had happened and to celebrate and uplift and elevate the coalition.
And so hence we came up with the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition and here we are some nine, 10 years later, still actively doing the work. And as I said, expanded into six, soon to be eight chapters across the country and building out collaborations even stronger with our membership base that are not just AHF employees, but many of those that started as our community partners and others in the local community that really are interested and passionate about this work. And not just the work around HIV/AIDS prevention, education and treatment in Black communities, but also around the work of those issues, again, that we know disproportionately impact Black Americans, that then can equally equate to why we're seeing an constant increase in new diagnosis across the country.
So that's kind of a prequel into what I was going to ask next in terms of how do we build community, but you touched on that a little bit. So I'm going to kind of shift and ask, what are the different aspects of BLACC into which how we were able to build this community. I am a member of BLACC too, obviously, but what I mean by that is can you talk about those different committees or different touchpoints of where we say this is an issue and just kind of talk about that?
Well, early on when ABACT was started, they actually did it where there was kind of subcommittees of ABACT that focused in on certain areas. So there was a subcommittee that focused in on the Black faith community, there was one that focused on Black civic organizations and professional organizations, there was one that focused on Black women, there was one that focused on Black youth and Black gay men and youth. And so what we've done is expanded that to say that is some of the tentacles of the kind of areas that we work within. So to build off of that, but also recognizing that there was a real need to, or I shouldn't say there was a real need, there was a real need, but that many of the partners that we were working with were equally as entrenched and passionate about a lot of the social justice issues and advocacy issues that we were involved with.
So everything from our Stand Against Hate campaign, everything from addressing high drug pricing that we know impacts all people. But I always say when there's something that is impacting our community, our broader community, where it might be a small tornado for some communities, it's a whole massive destruction when it comes to the Black community because it impacts our community so disproportionately. Addressing a myriad of things, we were also engaged in work to challenge the Supreme Court's decision from a grassroots advocates perspective around the Roe decision. So a number of things that we know directly impact Black communities. And so that has also been an increased facet of elevation of the work that we're now doing in the BLACC chapters. And to your earlier point, that has really helped to build community and strengthen community. And not to say that we're necessarily leading the task on all of these issues, but we'd like to say that we build partnerships and collaborations as we do this work.
So it is looking at both like-minded groups and like-minded individuals to really in delve in the community together, but also the non-traditional partners. We have built some and done some incredible work, particularly with many of our Greek fraternity organizations across the country. We've been able to, I am really proud of, been able to really push the needle, if you will, no pun intended, in the Black faith community and particularly in the deep Southern Black church, which oftentimes has gotten a bad rap around the work that it's been doing around sexual health and wellness.
So there's a myriad of things, and I'm so proud of the work that has gone on in working with young people, even the development of some curricula that we've been able to take into everybody from the YMCA and working with young people to schools, to youth groups, to even some of our organizations that are more focused on the college level, and use innovation and use technology and use engaging methodologies that help to engage young people in the conversation as opposed to talking to them, so we're really talking with them.
And there's been some really powerful opportunities that have existed by virtue of this work. And it's interesting, because a lot of young people know a lot more than what we give them credit for, but it's helping to make sure that they are given accurate and empowering information as opposed to what they may have heard on TikTok or what they may have heard in the schools or on the streets, if you will. So, it's been great. It's been great. And then there's clearly much more work yet to be done.
And our commitment has also really been that it's very localized. So it's not from the ground, from this kind of mighty tower down, telling people what to do in their local communities, but to empower our teams in the local communities and in the partners that they're working with locally to say, "Hey, what is needed and how do we do this in Cleveland?" Knowing that that could be different likely than it is in Los Angeles as it is in Atlanta, that it is in Chicago, but there also could be some universal methodologies and activations that can happen. And so we do a lot of exchange of ideas as well. So it's a great team of people, there's been some tremendous work that's been done. And none of this is to devoid the work that we're still doing, obviously directly around HIV education, awareness testing, and prevention.
Absolutely. So, I do want to ask you a question about, and I hate to call it a phrase because I feel like it just makes it not as serious as it is, but we did come up with a campaign almost that says racism is a public health issue. So considering the lens of BLACC, how do you think that that message has really resonated in the communities that we do outreach to and that ultimately that we're serving?
Oh, I think it has deeply resonated. I mean, we're seeing more and more organizations ironically tapping into and utilizing that phrase of racism as a public health issue. And I think we've been socialized to understand the definition of public health from a very linear definition, but really when you look at public health, there's many layers to public health. And clearly that we know that when we talk about racism as a public health issue, we could start with something as simple as the disproportionate access, not just the quality health and healthcare, but to just healthcare in general that exists in Black communities all across this country. When we look at the disproportionate access to food and healthy foods that we know directly correlate to our health and wellness. Disproportionately how Black Americans are disproportionately and negatively impacted by the lack of access to quality facilities for our own wellness.
So all of those things is when we're talking about racism is a public health issue. And when I say the access, we know that access is about finances. Accesses is directly correlated to where there are predominantly Black communities that still exist, there is a lack of these basic resources that every human being has a right to have to ensure that the completeness of their health and wellbeing.
It shouldn't be that I, as a Black American or my mother as a elder in the Black community, has to go miles to get access to any medical care. I'm talking even as something as simple as the minute clinics, if you will, that exists in communities all across the country, but oftentimes don't exist in the Black community, and all of those things. So when we talk about that, when we talk about the racism that exists in even how Blacks are treated within the healthcare system, it's all a part of that. And all the part of the makeup when we talk about racism being a public health issue, and that's just on the purely kind of looking at health and wellness and the totality of health as wellness in the being, we won't even get into many other issues that contribute in terms of socialization around racism and how that is also a public health issue.
And the other thing that I wanted to add onto this too, is as us being Black and we do, there's a myriad of things like you discussed that we touch on, whether it's social justice or just overall standard of care and living in the complexities of that. But what has BLACC done in terms of building that trust back within our community? Because as we know, there's a lot of trauma between healthcare and being a Black American in this country. So what measures or steps has BLACC taken, excuse me, to help kind of repair that so we are a trusted entity when we go into these communities?
Well, first of all, being Black folks, we know how Black folks are. So we recognize that you've got to build trust, even when it's Black on Black relationships. I've got to trust you. So the first thing we've done is just kind of meet folks where they're at and working together in ways that are start as opposed to coming in with, "Okay, we're an HIV/AIDS service organization. We need you to just work on HIV and AIDS." And that's really where the advocacy has come in, quite honestly, Lauren. I mean, because so many of those issues have deeply resonated with our partners all across this country.
So, that's been an automatic entry point, and one of the things that I think that many of our partners in BLACC, have appreciated is the deep support. And we're not talking about just financial support. I mean, that's actually been kind of a low place on the totem pole, but actually really the support around issues and being vocal around issues and fearlessly vocal around issues that oftentimes many of our partners, because either they're smaller organizations or they've just felt disenfranchised or that their voice didn't matter when we come in and work together and build coalitions.
So, oftentimes it's been the ability to not just say, "Hey, let's do a partnership and collaboration with just BLACC in one organization." But really bringing coalitions together to say, "Let's work on these issues together." And what are the resources, human resources that we need to move an issue forward? And to see that we're authentic about it and see that it's about organically building a relationship and not saying, "Okay, well in two weeks we need to be doing this together and in four weeks we need to be doing this together." But really working together and being honest with each other and creating safe and brave spaces to have real conversations and to really learn about each other.
And I think sometimes that we forget that as Black folks, we're not a monolithic culture, we're not a monolithic people. So, your experience is going to be very different from my experience outside of the mere fact of whether it's the difference in generations, the difference in gender identity, the difference in socioeconomic, or the difference in living on the west coast, living in the South, if you will, and our experiences. So it's about really listening and being authentic and being truthful and being straightforward with each other. It has really built trusting relationships that have proven to be very fruitful, that in many cases we find ourselves, I like to say, moving from just being partners or just being collaborators or co-collaborators to actually really building collaborative families together. And that's really where I think the essence is.
I love, I'm trying to think, gosh, they just used this. In the conversation that of course, we were recently involved with Dr. Cornell West, one of the things that I love that he said, and it correlates so much to even something Dr. Bernice King said most recently, is "Moving past just allyship to actually having folks that are members of your band. Because if you're members of your band, I'm in it through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the great times. But allyship means that I can go in and out as it's comfortable for me." And we think about having members of the band or allyship as it relates to people from different cultures or different sexual orientations or gender identities, if you will. But there's also about how do we build strong members of the band, even within the Black community. And that's the work that we're really committed to through BLACC and the relationships that we're building with our community partners and the individuals that engage in the work around BLACC.
So we are almost at time, but I do, obviously because they're doing such great work, so how can people get involved?
Well, it's very simple for those within the AHF family and AHF employees, you can just send an email to AHFBLACC@ahf.org. Quite honestly, others that are outside of the AHF sphere can do that as well. They can also visit us on our website at BLACC.net, and there is a push button where you can say, "Hey, I want to find out more information. I want to get involved." No matter what community that you're in, it'll link you to the local chapter of BLACC in your area. And like I said, we're currently in Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Ohio, and Texas. Predominantly in the Texas area, in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
Yes. But we are in the works developing a chapter in the DMV area and also possibly looking at opportunities in Louisiana, looking at possibilities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. So, that's one way.
Or there's also, you can look us up on social media and Facebook and Instagram and Twitter as well, and engage and follow us and stay in tune with everything that's going on, and just know that there is a place for all who identify as a part of the Black American experience.
And I'm very strategic about using Black Americans because we want to be engaging of our Caribbean American brothers and sisters, our African brothers and sisters that have recently moved to the United States from the continent, because it is about bringing together all Black Americans to do this work and to address the issues that impact us all. And to know that there is a place for you at the table. Your voice matters at this table and that we look forward to also, for those that don't identify as Black Americans, to work with our Hispanic and Latino brothers and sisters, our trans brothers and sisters, our women of non-African descent to all have you become members of our band and vice versa, that we become members of your band to do this work collaboratively together and to ultimately have tremendous and sustainable impact in our local communities all across this country.
Well, Imara, I have to say thank you so much for joining us on this episode. It's been very enlightening to say the least. And thank you for all the work that you're doing for the community and ultimately for Black Americans within this, our hemisphere, so thank you.
Yeah. Well, thank you, Lauren, for the conversation. I always appreciate it.
Absolutely. We'll see you guys next time.
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