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The Black HerStory of HIV- 8 Black Women Who Led the Fight to End the Epidemic

For Black History Month, we'd like to take a moment to recognize eight Black women who have made an invaluable contribution to improving the quality of life for those living with HIV. From fierce advocacy for improved treatment options, to creating safe spaces for stigma-free testing, discussion, education, these inspiring women have made a lasting impact on the way we view and discuss the epidemic.

Black women have been on the frontlines in the fight against HIV for decades. From scientists and activists, to doctors and policy makers, these brave women have worked tirelessly to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and promote access to care for those living with HIV.

Read on to learn more about their incredible contributions to the cause.

Joan Garner

Joan P. Garner was a Fulton County Commissioner and vocal advocate for the rights of those living with HIV. She recently passed away at the age of 65 following a lengthy battle with breast cancer.

Before she was elected to represent Fulton’s District 4, which included Midtown and the neighborhoods west of downtown Atlanta, Garner was the president and CEO of the Historic District Development Corporation, and served in executive roles in many other civic organizations.

Garner was passionate about improving access to healthcare for all citizens and reducing stigma around HIV. She worked tirelessly to introduce initiatives such as Stepping Up, which aimed to reduce the number of mentally ill people incarcerated. In tribute to her memory, her work is continued by the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force. Through her tireless advocacy for those living with HIV, she left a lasting impact on how we collectively respond to the HIV epidemic professionally and personally.

Kristi Matthews

Kristi Matthews is a former board member and chair for Sisterlove, Inc. As a member of the board, Kristi was committed to ensuring that the organization, and specifically the board, carried out its duties and flourished.

"Kristi was totally committed and truly believed in the mission and vision of Sisterlove, and wanted to ensure that she was instrumental in helping the organization build a strong foundation."

Under her leadership, Kristi was instrumental in helping Sisterlove develop a succession plan for the agency, improve board operations, and other key initiatives. As stated by former SLI chair Brandi Williams, "Kristi was totally committed and truly believed in the mission and vision of Sisterlove, and wanted to ensure that she was instrumental in helping the organization build a strong foundation."

She supported a variety of programs and was an amazing youth speaker. She would encourage young people to reach their dreams and goals. She graduated from Spelman, studied abroad in London, England, and graduated with a law degree from UCLA.

Kristi made SisterLove a priority in her life, and left a mark on us. She will be missed by all who had the chance to work with her and benefit from her leadership.

Juanita Williams

Juanita Williams is not only a significant person in the decades long global effort to end HIV, she's also a significant person to us as our first client to be tested for HIV.

Juanita was born on August 30, 1956, and passed away July 1, 2021. During her 64 years of life, Juanita dedicated herself to providing comfort and care for those living with HIV. Her compassion and intelligence touched many hearts and minds.

Juanita lived openly with her HIV-positive status and the challenges that brings. She left a legacy of strength, compassion, and artisanship. As a Master Crafter and Quilter, she would provide quilts, blankets, and other comfort items that serve as a reminder for those living with HIV that they are not alone. She was outspoken as a long-time survivor of many challenges including HIV and cancer.

She blazed trails for women's lives, organized for social justice, and gave life to everything and everyone she touched.

Prudence Mabele

Prudence Nobantu Mabele was a prominent South African HIV activist and feminist.

Born in 1960, she was the founder of the Positive Women's Network, an organization that works to empower women living with HIV and to ensure their access to medical care. Mabele was also an active member of the Treatment Action Campaign, a group that advocates for better treatments for HIV. She was an outspoken advocate for the rights of women and people living with HIV until her death on August 5th, 2017 at the age of 57.

Loretta Ross

Loretta Ross is an American feminist and civil rights activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for women's reproductive health care access and gender equality since the 1970s.

She co-founded SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as well as other organizations such as National Black Women's Health Project, National Center for Human Rights Education, and the Trust Black Women Partnership that focus on empowering marginalized communities by promoting intersectional gender equity around issues related to race or ethnicity. Her work includes numerous publications such as "Reproductive Justice: An Introduction" (2011).

Tori Cooper

Tori Cooper is a Black transwoman who has dedicated her life to passionate advocacy for building inclusive communities that celebrate diversity while protecting human rights.

We're honored to have her as a valued board member of SisterLove.

She serves as the Director of Community Engagement at Human Rights Campaign (HRC), where she works towards connecting African American/Latinx faith-based organizations with HRC’s mission-driven resources through outreach programs designed specifically around these targeted demographics' interests in LGBTQ issues relating to gender equality or civil liberties protection under federal law .

Previously, Tori has held positions such as Regional Field Organizer at Equality Ohio or Executive Director at The People Project which demonstrates her commitment towards defending social justice causes throughout her career

Vanessa Johnson

Vanessa Johnson has been a behind-the-scenes mentor and champion to many women living with HIV and her legacy has already impacted thousands of women living with HIV.

A co-founder of Positive Women's Network-USA, she is a lawyer by training and has been busy founding and leading organizations to save lives, humanity, and dignity of Black people impacted by HIV since the 1990s. Just a few of the organizations that she created or co-created, in addition to PWN, include the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, Capital District African American Coalition on AIDS (CDAACA), Catch a Rising Star, Saving our Sisters, National Women and AIDS Collective, the 30 for 30 Campaign, the Ribbon Consulting Group, the innovative, CDC-recognized Common Threads microenterprise program for women living with and affected by HIV, and Butterfly-Rising, an evaluated trauma-informed intervention for women with HIV.

Vanessa has also steered other essential spaces fighting for the rights of people living with HIV as the National Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPWA) and trained hundreds of women living with and affected by HIV to help us thrive with dignity. Vanessa helped author PWN’s seminal sexual and reproductive justice report for women with HIV, published in 2013: Unspoken: Sexual, Romance and Reproductive Freedom for Women Living with HIV.

Dázon Dixon Diallo

Dázon is a recognized visionary and advocate in the struggle for human rights, sexual and reproductive justice, and the fight against HIV with, and on behalf of, communities of women and girls living with HIV and those at risk for HIV and STIs. She is a proud member of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda Partnership, where she advocates for sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice in public health and prevention policies and programs.



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