Black AIDS Institute CEO Phill Wilson announces retirement

WESTLAKE —  As part of a new strategic plan, the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute announced today that its president and CEO will retire later this year.

The Black AIDS Institute is the only national HIV-AIDS social service agency and think tank in the U.S. focused exclusively on the black community.

As part of a new strategic plan, the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute announced today that President and CEO Phill Wilson will retire later this year. Photo: Black AIDS Institute.

‘BITTERSWEET’

In a statement, Phill Wilson, who launched the organization in 1999, said stepping down is “bittersweet.”

“In order for a movement to endure, there must be a plan for the future,” Wilson, 61, said. “Stepping down as the president and CEO of the Institute, where I have had the privilege of serving for the last 19 years, is bittersweet for me.”

Wilson, a Chicago native, was diagnosed HIV positive in the early 1980s, and moved to Los Angeles in 1982. He jumped into activism the following year when he read the poem “Where will you be when they come?” at a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims that he also helped organize.

“In 1983, when I started doing this work, none of us could have imagined that a mysterious new disease, first identified at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, would become the defining health issue of our generation,” Wilson said in the statement.

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LAUNCHING BLACK AIDS INSTITUTE

Wilson started the Black AIDS Institute with a clear mantra (“Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution”) and mission to stop AIDS in black communities by engaging and mobilizing black leaders, institutions, and individuals in efforts to confront HIV from “a uniquely and unapologetically black point of view,” according to the statement.

During Wilson’s tenure, the Black AIDS Institute has launched programming  (African American HIV University and Black Treatment Advocates Network), released reports (“State of AIDS in Black America”) and recognized activists in the community (Heroes in the Struggle Gala Reception and Awards Celebration).

‘BLACK DISEASE’

For 19 years I have been saying ‘AIDS in America is a black disease.’ No matter how you look at it — through the lens of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, level of education, or region of the country where you live — black people bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country — and the world for that matter,” Wilson said.

For example, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those people living with HIV, and those people who have ever received an AIDS diagnosis, compared to other races-ethnicities.

  • African Americans accounted for 44 percent of HIV diagnoses, though they comprise 12 percent of the United States population
  • 17,528 African Americans received an HIV diagnosis in the United States (12,890 men, 4,560 women)
  • 58 percent of African Americans with diagnosed HIV, 10,223, were gay or bisexual men
  • Among African American gay and bisexual men who received an HIV diagnosis, 39 percent or 3,993, were young men aged 25 to 34

“No path, no strategy, no tactic will end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America without ending the epidemic in black America. Today, we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in the United States,” Wilson said. “The question is whether we have the political and moral will to use those tools effectively, humanely, and in an inclusive manner.”

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$2.7 MILLION BUDGET

Wilson said the Black AIDS Institute, which has an operating budget of $2.7 million and a staff of 16 full-time employees, has the infrastructure and capacity to to prepare for a new generation of capacity building, advocacy, mobilization, and services.

Wilson is expected to retire August when a new president and CEO will take over.

The Morten Group in Chicago is conducting the search for the new executive.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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