Gina Brown: Making Space for the Next Woman
By April Eugene, a Philadelphia-based writer contributing to the Black AIDS Institute
Gina Brown considers it an honor to be recognized as a Hero in the Struggle. “I didn’t believe it because my trauma tells me you’re gonna always be nothing; because that’s what I heard all my life—from people in the street, from home,” she says. Brown, who dropped out of middle school and overcame crack addiction as well as sexual and physical abuse, has turned her life around and has become an outspoken AIDS advocate and champion of the people, a feat worthy of celebration.
A New Orleans native, Brown has been actively involved in HIV concerns for 23 years. She started by speaking up for better conditions at her local HIV clinic. Since then, Brown “has had 999 jobs,” she says—all of which have helped her improve her skills.
She started her career with FACES, a Ryan White HIV/AIDS Part D Program, as a peer advocate, later advancing to become a case finder. Then Hurricane Katrina happened. She moved to Dallas—vowing never to return to New Orleans—for two years before returning to the Big Easy. “I came home because I felt like it was part of my obligation to help rebuild the HIV community,” she says. Brown returned to a previous job but discovered that the agency’s approach was no longer relevant to the Black community, noting a stark difference in how Black women living with HIV were viewed.
She didn’t stay in that position long, deciding instead to obtain her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern University, and doing so in a mere five years. After graduate school, Brown set her sights on learning the administrative aspects of running a non-profit organization.
“My background had been in direct service; I liked working with people,” Brown says. “My focus in grad school was administrative planning and organizing. And I wanted to do that organizing around young people in the community who had experienced trauma, because that’s the thing that cuts them off from getting an HIV diagnosis, and I know how trauma can lead us to do different things. But I’d never really done anything in administration, so I went to the New Orleans Regional AIDS Planning Council to learn all of those skills.”
Currently, Brown is the community organizer at the Southern AIDS Coalition. Through its LEAD (Leadership, Education and Advocacy Development) Academy, she develops Black women and people who are living with HIV or at high risk of contracting HIV for future leadership positions. The three-part program begins with Beyond HIV, which focuses on the advanced biomedical and scientific tools that have recently become available; part 2 includes advocacy practices and learning to tell your story as a way to educate people; and the third part develops women to take direct action in the community.