Birmingham, AL—The Southern AIDS Coalition [SAC] announced today the appointment of Dafina Ward as Executive Director. “We are thrilled to announce Dafina Ward as the new Executive Director for the Southern AIDS Coalition,” said Board Chair Kathie Hiers. “I have worked with Dafina for many years in many capacities, and we simply couldn’t have found anyone smarter, more experienced, or with a keener eye for social justice. I am excited to watch the organization thrive under Dafina’s dynamic leadership!”
Ward joined the Southern AIDS Coalition in 2018 to manage the organization’s grant-making through the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®. Her role expanded quickly, as she grew to become a key leader in the Initiative. “Gilead celebrates the announcement of Dafina Ward as Executive Director of the Southern AIDS Coalition,” said Korab Zuka, Vice President of Public Affairs at Gilead Sciences, Inc. “The Southern AIDS Coalition is an integral partner in Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative — a 10-year, more than $100 million commitment to address HIV/AIDS in the southern United States. Dafina possesses the strategic vision and fortitude needed to elevate the organization to the prominence it deserves. Gilead is excited for Dafina’s leadership in this new chapter of the organization’s growth.”
Ward served as Interim Executive Director of SAC during a period of unprecedented organizational growth and expansion. She has already led efforts to increase the organization’s funding and broaden its programming, including its new role as a technical assistance provider for jurisdictions through the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic plan and the launch of the acclaimed Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
National HIV leaders recognize Ward’s appointment as a pivotal and exciting new direction for Southern AIDS Coalition. “Dafina is a wonderful choice to maintain the momentum of the Southern AIDS Coalition,” says Jesse Milan, President and CEO of AIDS United. “She is a policy and grant-making leader and lives and breathes the South. Her legal expertise will also be a huge benefit. AIDS United has had a long partnership with the Southern AIDS Coalition, and we are eager to support the coalition as they move forward under Dafina’s leadership.”
Ward has demonstrated her commitment to building a leadership development pipeline in the South that embraces and supports emerging leaders from communities most impacted by HIV. Temica Morton with L.I.F.E., Inc. of Mississippi has experienced this firsthand. “We are so excited and happy for Dafina.
She was the one that I personally emailed daily working on our campaign. She has been a true blessing to this community for so many years. With her leading the team I’m sure more great things are to come.”
Ward has also worked closely with healthcare providers in the region. According to Shirley Selvage, Coordinator of Health Education at the UAB 1917 Clinic (one of the South’s largest clinics caring for persons living with HIV), “Dafina’s dedication and commitment to the HIV/AIDS community through the years makes her a great fit for Executive Director. I am delighted to have worked with her on several projects in the past. Her leadership speaks volumes.”
Responding to Ward’s appointment as SAC Executive Director, Larry Scott-Walker, CEO of THRIVE SS in Atlanta, said, “There are few things that I have more faith in than a Black woman with a vision. Dafina Ward is one such woman who provides me with endless inspiration and belief that we will end the stronghold HIV has on Black and other highly marginalized communities. Dafina effortlessly elevates community, utilizing her tremendous understanding of the public health landscape, her deep connections to the historical injustices that have befallen Black bodies, and her innovative yet intuitive vision for what an equitable future requires. I am not only honored to do this work alongside such a powerful woman, but my motivation and drive relies on and is deepened by the light of her efforts.”
Ward resides in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and is a Kentucky native who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and the Temple University Beasley School of Law. She comes to this role with over a dozen years of experience working at the intersection of HIV and other health and justice issues in the southern United States. Her track record of success in fundraising, program development, and innovative approaches to community engagement, will all prove critical in her new role.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve through this role,” says Ward. “Our team recognizes the significance of the work that must happen in the region, right now. We are committed to listening, to amplifying the stories of our partners in the South, and fighting for the policies and services, that will improve quality of life for those living with and impacted by HIV. We will not end the national HIV epidemic until we change the health disparities that exist in the southern United States. This will take all of us, and I am looking forward to being on this journey with the communities we serve.”
About Southern AIDS Coalition
Southern AIDS Coalition is a regional organization serving the 16 southern states and Washington, D.C. One of the most consequential HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in America, Southern AIDS Coalition convenes key influencers annually via its signature programs that include Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. SAC is a non-partisan coalition of government, community, and corporate leaders working alongside thousands of individual members to end the HIV epidemic in the South. SAC is also a Gilead COMPASS Initiative Coordinating Center, providing a range of grants and capacity-building services to organizations and leaders in the nine Deep South states. SAC’s portfolio includes leadership development opportunities for persons living with HIV; intersectional advocacy; capacity-building assistance; research and evaluation; and strategic grant-making. To learn more or to join us, visit www.southernaidscoalition.org