The award-winning online and print resource, POZ magazine — for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, has published “The POZ 100 List” for this year. The list celebrates people who work within the HIV/AIDS community.
The list recognizes six people from Charlotte, 11 from other areas of North Carolina and six people from South Carolina. This year’s list focused on the South. The 16 states and the District of Columbia comprise 44 percent of Americans living with HIV with only 37 percent of the U.S. population. Charlotte and Greensboro are on a CDC list for areas with the highest rates of new HIV infection.
The full “POZ 100” list can be found online at POZ.com and in their December print magazine.
In celebration, Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts proclaimed Nov. 14 as POZ 100 Day and announced the names from the city who were included on the list. They are…
Rev. Debbie Warren
More than any other individual, Debbie Warren has shaped the Charlotte community’s response to the challenges of HIV. Her vision for RAIN struck a chord in the region as she helped people with HIV receive practical, emotional and spiritual support. RAIN has emerged as a leading provider of medical case management, treatment-adherence support and advocacy for early testing and the adoption of PrEP. Through AIDS Walk Charlotte, Gay Bingo and other public activities RAIN has sustained community awareness of HIV, provided practical means for support, and increased acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Her success in Charlotte has made her a powerful advocate in North Carolina. She is a founding member of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network — ncaan.org — and has spoken at numerous regional and national conferences.
Through all the changes in the world of HIV, Warren has been a constant presence. Starting as a one-woman agency, Debbie educated congregations, recruited, trained and managed volunteers, did client intake, provided spiritual counseling, and performed funerals. All of these activities changed the community’s conversation around HIV — replacing fear and distrust with understanding and acceptance. She led the development of an effective board of directors, secured resources to support professional staff to meet client needs and shepherded RAIN through difficult times. As treatment increased and life expectancy grew, Warren has helped clients and volunteers to successfully navigate the changing needs, adopting new models of care and forming new partnerships. In all this, she has sustained a well-earned reputation for the quality of RAIN’s services and the competency and compassion of the staff.
The work of Warren, RAIN, its staff and volunteers have been recognized by the Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bank of America and the Search for Common Ground as well as numerous local and North Carolina awards.
Visit carolinarain.org to learn more.
Chelsea Gulden White
White’s ability to influence others is rooted in her personal experience of being HIV-positive, diagnosed while a college student. Achieving her goals of managing her own health, White wanted to share her talents with other young people facing the same challenges. She created the Empowering Positive Youth (EPY) program at Metrolina AIDS Project (MAP) for clients ages 13-24, building the first youth-centric program in North Carolina. Responsive to their needs, White provided counseling, led support groups and helped clients take their own leadership roles in the community.
When MAP closed in 2009, White faced a huge challenge — how to save the only youth program in the state, with no funding, in the midst of the recession. RAIN’s CEO Debbie Warren recognized the value of EPY and offered office space, IT, assistance with food and other services. EPY clients began to make their way to RAIN, and Chelsea worked without pay until funding could be secured.
Today the program is stronger than ever, has a loyal following and serves 90 or more HIV-positive youth each year. Many young adults call RAIN their second home for helping them overcome significant traumas, set goals, achieve and sustain their health. Chelsea estimates the program has served 800 teens and young adults, many of whom have overcome an addiction, earn diplomas and degrees, and transition into a fulfilling adult life.
In recent years, her leadership role enlarged as she became the Director of Programs at RAIN. Alarmed by the rates of HIV among young men of color, she worked with several local physicians to create a comprehensive PrEP program, ensuring that low income North Carolinians have access to PrEP.
As a peer navigator and Affordable Care Act (ACA) counselor Foreman-McMaster works with 90-100 HIV-positive young men and women between the ages of 13 and 25 who face many challenges, including trauma, homelessness and stigma.
After the passage of ACA, Foreman-McMaster took the initiative to research and become an expert on health exchanges and insurance plans that best serve people living with HIV. Every year, he contacts HIV specialists in our region to understand what plans they accept so he can best advise people living with HIV in need of health insurance. He has become the unofficial “ACA Expert” for ASOs in the entire region.
He understands how complicated and confusing accessing insurance is for many people living with HIV and compassionately helps each one with a calm and caring demeanor. Last year he personally enrolled 103 people living with HIV!
Roberto Olmo began his work at RAIN as an Outreach and Prevention Specialist. Olmo targeted underserved communities in Charlotte (Black, Latino, LGBTQ+, women) and provided education on: HIV/STI prevention; healthy living with HIV; eligibility for Medicare/Medicaid/Affordable Care Act.
Olmo began receiving calls from individuals needing emergency access to PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, and was able to help people who may have been exposed to HIV access PEP — helping them remain HIV-negative. When TRUVADA became available on the market for use as PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, Olmo started linking individuals at high risk for HIV to PrEP. He fought and searched for providers willing to see uninsured patients for free or at reasonable costs.
Roberto also serves as an EPY Peer Navigator where he provides psycho-social support services for youth living with HIV ages 12 to 24.
J. Wesley Thompson
J. Wesley Thompson, PA-C, AAHIVS, DFAAPA, is the visionary medical director and co-owner of Ballantyne Family Medicine, known as “BFM”, in Charlotte, N.C. He has practiced medicine for almost 30 years and has provided both primary and specialized care to the HIV/AIDS population.
Thompson has long-held the goal of creating a one-stop-shop for HIV/AIDS care in Charlotte, the largest U.S. city without one. BFM has only been in place since December 2015, but the groundwork for a one-stop-shop has been in the making for nearly 20 years! This one-stop-shop offers, under the same roof, comprehensive medical care and supportive services for persons living with HIV/AIDS. These services include comprehensive HIV care, an on-site pharmacy with clinical pharmacists, general healthcare, case management, substance abuse, mental health services and help with other fundamental human needs such as food, housing, and transportation.
Thompson was the first PA to be a certified HIV Specialist in N.C. and one of the first to be certified in the U.S. He has co-investigated in more than 60 clinical trials for the treatment of HIV. He is an adjunct professor at Wingate University and has served as preceptor for the PA Programs at Duke University, Wake Forest University and Wingate University. Additionally, he has served as preceptor for nurse practitioner programs at Winston-Salem State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and others. Thompson also serves with the new Duke University HIV/AIDS Specialty Program for Nurse Practitioners as a clinical site. As is surely clear, Thompson is committed to ongoing HIV education of students. Many of his students have gone on to pursue careers in HIV/AIDS.
Formal education is not the only way Thompson is committed to serving and educating both students and the community at large. He currently serves on the provider committee of the North Carolina AIDS Drug Assistance Program, sits on the board of CarolinasCare ASO, and is on the national board of directors of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and is co-chair of the Southeast Chapter. He is also on the board of directors for the North Carolina AIDS Action Network and is a member of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and a member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. He has recently become involved with the NC AIDS Training and Education Center in establishing the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Provider Network which connects patients throughout North Carolina with PrEP prescribers. Previously, Wesley has served many other organizations.
Darrin K. Johnson
Darrin K. Johnson is from Charlotte, N.C. He is currently the project director for The Online Safe Space Initiative, a CDC-funded research study under the Minority AIDS Research Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), Mpowerment coordinator at the PowerHouse Project and a full-time doctoral student in Health Services Research.
Johnson is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University with a B.S. in Mass Communication. He holds a Master’s of Public Administration from Keller Graduate School. Johnson has 10 years of experience working in community engagement, HIV prevention and research with Black gay and bisexual men and transgender women. His previous experience comes from project doordinator and education department manager positions at Metrolina AIDS Project (now closed), and senior prevention coordinator at Carolinas CARE Partnership, before beginning HIV prevention research at UNCC.
Johnson is a member and chapter leader in the House of Blahnik, Inc., a national social services organization that is focuses on improving the conditions in which young people experience and live through social support and the arts with an emphasis on the ball community. He is also a co-chair on the Mecklenburg County HIV/AIDS Council, steering committee member of the North Carolina Black MSM Initiative, a member of the NC HIV Prevention and Care Advisory Committee, co-chair of BTAN Charlotte, and director of education for the Beta Rho Sigma alumni chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
Across the Carolinas
Ruby Amagwula, Raleigh, North Carolina
Founder of faith-based agency Good Orderly Directions (GOD).
Steve Daniels, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Outreach worker for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.
Yvonne Early, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Program manager at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center.
Art Jackson, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Programmer and educator at Community Health Interventions and Sickle Cell Agency Inc. (CHISCA), and has been known to dress as a giant “Mister Safety” condom to promote awareness.
Jonathan Lucas, High Point, North Carolina
Senior community programs manager at FHI 360.
Carolyn McAllaster, Durham, North Carolina
Founder of the Duke AIDS Legal Project and the Duke HIV/AIDS Policy Clinic, at which she is the director.
Allison Rice, Durham, North Carolina
Director of the Health Justice Clinic at Duke Law School and works with Duke’s HIV/AIDS policy clinic and is a member of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.
Esther Ross, Greenville, North Carolina
Founder of the Circle of Friends Taskforce, is a social worker at East Carolina University’s Infectious Disease Clinic.
Savalas Squire, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The ordained Baptist minister leads the HIV Hope Project and is a member of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network’s Speaking Positively Program.
Lee Storrow, Raleigh, North Carolina
Executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN).
Kevin Varner, Greensboro, North Carolina
Active in the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, the North Carolina AIDS Action Network and his “Life With a Plus Sign” blog.
Billy Duckett, Greenwood, South Carolina
Volunteered at Upper Savannah Care Services and Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (PALSS).
Bambi Gaddist, Columbia, South Carolina
Founder and ED of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council (SCHAC).
Monique Howell-Moree, Holly Hill, South Carolina
Author of a memoir entitled “Living Inside My Skin of Silence” and the founder and CEO of Monique’s Hope for Cure Outreach Services.
Stacy Jennings, Columbia, South Carolina
An advocate with the Positive Advocacy Committee and a member of P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E. Voices and the South Carolina chapter of the Positive Women’s Network – USA.
Carmen Julious, Columbia, South Carolina
Executive director of Palmetto AIDS Support Services.
Evelyn Scott, Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
A member of P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E. Voices and the Positive Women’s Network – USA.