Throughout the earliest years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, I deeply admired the fierce intellect of the late Martin Delaney, the researcher and advocate who, among many other historic accomplishments, founded Project Inform, the HIV treatment advocacy group with intimate ties to the community.
What I did not know, however, was that his staff called him “Bunny.”
A sense of humor helps, especially when you work for an organization with a mission statement that addresses an enormous and sometimes nightmarish public health crisis.
My first job in the AIDS arena was with the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, which trained support volunteers to help people with AIDS die with dignity by providing a non-judgmental, compassionate presence. At the time, with no effective medications and a high death rate, providing comfort to the dying was our only mission. You cannot imagine the emotional toll of being in that blizzard of mortality.
And so, on the last Friday of each and every month, we closed the offices promptly at noon and the staff halted work, no exceptions, so that we could engage in “Bad Shanti” – the point being to get out of the office for a getaway, and the sillier the better. We played miniature golf, went bowling, walked over to Hollywood Boulevard to see a movie (animated Disney preferred), or had a picnic in the park. Some might call it team building. We saw it as a way to protect our sanity.
The HIV landscape may have changed since then, but organizations like Project Inform take their mission no less seriously. Many of them also share a sense of humor my fellow staff members at Shanti would have appreciated.
When David Evans, Director of Research Advocacy at Project Inform, invited me to come to San Francisco to create a video highlighting the staff, he knew my work can lean toward the absurd, and that’s exactly what he wanted. The goal was to present the hard-working program staff of Project Inform as complete human beings, beyond their obvious dedication to HIV treatment and prevention.
You can judge the results for yourself. Suffice it to say that David Evans has a wig fixation, Director of Education Alan McCord has a cadre of juicy photos on his phone, and program manager Emily Marikos-Sanders has more outlandish costumes at the ready than Cher. And that’s only the beginning in this fast-moving video that shows you the very heart of the organization: the people who do the daily work.
Project Inform was founded in 1985 and remains the country’s leading HIV and Hepatitis C treatment and prevention advocacy agency. They focus on the development of effective treatments and a cure; supporting individuals to make informed choices about their health; advocating for quality, affordable health care; and promoting medical strategies that prevent new infections.
They accomplish all of this without public funding. They depend exclusively on the generosity of individuals, businesses and private foundations to support their vital work. That’s your cue to find out more about how you can help them reach their goals.
This article previously appeared at Mark's own blog, My Fabulous Disease, here.