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Sept. 13, 2021

African American AIDS Activism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), in 2018, 13% of the US population was Black and African American, but 42% of new HIV diagnoses in the US were from Black and African American people. This discrepancy is not new. 

On June 5, 1981, the CDC first published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) titled “Pneumocystis Pneumonia” that suggested that there might be “a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections such as pneumocystosis and candidiasis” to explain a number of infections they were seeing among gay men.

This early identification of HIV/AIDS as a disease of white gay men colored the response to the epidemic. As gay men organized AIDS education and support networks they built organizations staffed by white volunteers and situated in gay neighborhoods in major urban centers. Because of racism and segregation many of those gay neighborhoods were largely white, and the education and support campaigns didn’t reach the Black and brown communities that were also affected by the disease.

In response, African American AIDS activists formed their own organizations from the beginning of the crisis. African American AIDS activism was diverse and creative from the early days of the pandemic, and it continues today, but it’s often been missing from popular media and historical writing about AIDS.

In this episode, Kelly briefly tells the background of African American AIDS activism and interviews Dan Royles, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University and author of To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle against HIV/AIDS, which was recently named a Finalist in the 2021 Museum of African American History Stone Book Award.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Episode image by Tobe Mokolo on Unsplash.



Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

Today's story is about AIDS activism in the African American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, in 2018, 13% of the US population was Black and African American; but 42% of the new HIV diagnoses in the US were from Black and African American people. This discrepancy is not new. On June 5, 1981, the CDC first published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, (MMWR) titled "Pneumocystis Pneumonia, Los Angeles" that concluded, "The above observations suggest the possibility of a cellular immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections. Although the role of CMV infection in the pathogenesis of pneumocytosis remains unknown, the possibility of P. Carinii infection must be carefully considered in a differential diagnosis for previously healthy homosexual males with dyspnea and pneumonia." The CDC dates the start of the HIV AIDS epidemic to this publication, although the virus may have been circulating in the US for a decade or more prior to that. The early identification of HIV AIDS as a disease of white gay men colored the response to the epidemic. As gay men organized AIDS education and support networks, they built organizations staffed by white volunteers and situated in gay neighborhoods in major urban centers. Because of racism and segregation, many of those gay neighborhoods were largely white, and the education and support campaigns didn't reach the Black and brown communities that were also affected by the disease.

In response, African American AIDS activists formed their own organizations from the beginning of the crisis.

Rashidah Hassan, who now goes by Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer, was a Black Muslim nurse and board Vice President for the Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives (PCHA), the parent organization of the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. During an AIDS vigil in the JFK Plaza in downtown Philadelphia, on September 25, 1986, Hassan gave what she would later call her Malcolm X speech, in which she resigned her board position. Hassan had formed her own organization, Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues (BEBASHI) to address the needs of the community. In her speech, Hassan said, "Our people have the right to be educated, have the right to have resources committed, have the right to stand here with you and say that we are dying from this disease, and you are making it our disease. I want you to remember that while you're fighting, there are those who are different from you who need to have a voice in how things are done, because they do not recognize that it is not just a white gay disease. And I ask your help and your support in trying to provide that information to the community."

Hassan and other African American AIDS activists used a variety of approaches and methods to reach those affected communities. For Hassan, that meant canvassing in Black neighborhoods to reach not only Black gay men, but also the straight Black men, women and youth who were at risk.

Organizations run by Black gay men such as the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, and Gay Men of African Descent, in contrast, focused their efforts on the particular position of Black gay men who suffered from both racism and homophobia. For Gay Men of African Descent, the response to the AIDS crisis included equipping Black gay men with needed self esteem to reduce the likelihood they would put themselves at risk for HIV through drugs and unprotected sex. Harlem Hospital immunologist Pernessa Seele, who founded Balm in Gilead, had focused her work on outreach via Black churches. In the first Harlem Week of Prayer, she organized in 1989, 50 churches, synagogues and mosques participated. Seele worked with African American clergy to confront homophobia, and help them incorporate AIDS education into their ministry. The Balm in Gilead then extended the work with Black churches into sub- Saharan Africa, implementing programs in Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Tasmania, with  the belief that the approach that worked in the US would work well in Africa, as well, because of the relationship between Black people and the faith. As these few examples show, African American AIDS activism was diverse and creative from the early days of the pandemic. And it continues today. But it has often been missing from popular media and historical writing about AIDS. To help us understand more about the history of African American AIDS activism, I'm joined now by Dan Royals, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University, and author of "To Make the Wounded Whole; the African American Struggle Against HIV AIDS," which was recently named a finalist for the 2021 Museum of African American History Stone Book Award. 

Hi, Dan, thanks for joining me today. Thanks for having me. So I want to start by asking just a little bit about how you got into this project that I'm sure took many, many years of your life to research and write is what I assume came out of your dissertation, and then your book. So can you tell me a little bit about how you started the project, how you got into it?

Dan Royles  7:10  
Yeah, so this project did start or was formerly my dissertation when I was in a Ph. D. program in history at Temple University in Philadelphia. And so that dissertation actually started in a course that I took, that was a research seminar on social movements since the 1960s, or something like that. And for that class, I did produce a major research paper, and I wanted to research AIDS activism in Philadelphia, because it wasn't something that I thought had really been been been covered. So I dug into some archives, and one of the stories that I found was the story of a woman named Rashidah Hassan at the time. Now she's Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer and a group that she started called BEBASHI, which stands for Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues. And this is one of the first Black aid service organizations in the country, and started in 1985. And the story was really interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One is that Rashidah Hassan was, is, she's still living, but she goes by Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer now, a Black Muslim woman who wears a head covering. And she started BEBASHI kind of out of this conflict with a group called Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives, which is an AIDS service organization that started in Philadelphia very early on in the epidemic that was predominantly vying for white gay men. And so BEBASHI started out of this conflict between basically white gay AIDS activists and Black AIDS activists, gay and straight in Philadelphia, as they were kind of competing for to set priorities and strategy for how to confront the epidemic, because groups like Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives, were very good at serving the white gay men in the community from which they grew out of which is the predominantly gay neighborhood in Philadelphia called the gayborhood, but struggled to reach gay men of color, who tended not to feel comfortable going to the gayborhood because of, you know, racial discrimination at bars, because of sexual discrimination in the bars, you know, for a whole host of reasons. And so the story was really interesting to me because Rashidah Hassan, really exploded, didn't look like kind of what my mental image of an AIDS activist was, and my mental image of an AIDS activist was really shaped by a kind of active New York, in the late 80s, early 90s. You know, like, kind of young, young ish, you know, mostly white gay men wearing jeans, and you know "Silence Equals Death" T-shirts and Doc Martens. It's definitely kind of the story that I searched to find in Philadelphia. and there's that story too. But this story just looks so much different. Rashidah Hassan was like such a different figure from this mental image that I had that I didn't, I hadn't like consciously interrogated yet, right? Like I had it, but I hadn't really thought about why I had that image, or you know, how that image might have been shaped by stories that were available to me. And then there was this, this really intense conflict within AIDS services in Philadelphia, really early on. '85 is, you know, four years into the recognized epidemic. And so there are all these elements of the story that were really fascinating to me, and just looked in different ways, very different from the kind of narratives that I was aware of, or that I saw kind of in, in popular culture and also in the historical literature around AIDS and AIDS activism in the United States. And with this paper in 2009, so some of the literature, you know, has come along since then. But certainly at the time, I didn't see anything like it and what was being written or what had been written. So I thought, "Okay, well, here's the story in Philadelphia. I wonder if there's similar stories elsewhere." And of course, there were. And so I found some of those. The BEBASHI story became  kind of the kernel of the dissertation and then the book, and is the first chapter in the book. And then there are six other chapters that kind of tell other stories that flesh out other facets or other dimensions of what, you know, this larger project of African American AIDS activism looks like.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:44  
So I want to talk a little bit about the idea of doing history that is still present. So you know, it's it's not very distant history. I think people a lot of times picture historians as being like, in dusty archives somewhere, you know, and, and this is very much it's, it's recent, much more recent, and many of these organizations still exist, this work continues, it's certainly not done. And you talk in the conclusion a little bit about becoming an activist yourself, you know, sort of in the process, it almost sort of a anthropology, you know, in addition to history. So can you talk to them about that, what that kind of history looks like, what your sources are, you know, how you sort of tease out things where people are still alive, still, you know, still still acting, doing the kinds of things that you write about?

Dan Royles  12:35  
Yeah, I did spend a good amount of time in dusty archives, nevertheless, you know, but, you know, there are some real benefits, I think, to doing history like this. I mean, one is that, you know, thankfully, there are folks who were who are still alive. And you know, when you're writing about AIDS, like, that's not something you can take as a given, even though it's recent history, you know, but there are folks who are still alive, who are very generous in sharing their time and their stories with me. And that really gave me like, a really critical perspective on the groups that individuals, you know, the specific topics that I was writing about, you know, in a way that I don't think I could have gotten just from documentary archives. And so that was, that was a really valuable part of just the experience of doing the research, I think you made the book much better than it would have been otherwise. Another kind of, I don't know, specific, you know, circumstances of doing really recent histories that the archives are coming into being, as they were coming into being as I was doing research. So, you know, I started this research in 2009. I finished the book in 20, may 2019. And in that time, especially for some of the stories, new collections would come into the archives that I worked in. And so, you know, particularly for one one chapter does not act at Philadelphia, you know, I think it was like 2015 or something, Somebody just brought a couple of like the big Rubbermaid like tote containers into the laneway archives in Philadelphia, and just, like, dropped them off, and they're like, "Hey, there's this, like, there's these big containers of stuff here. Do you want to look at them?" I was like, "Yeah," which meant, you know, going through, basically, just like somebody had cleared out an office and put it all into containers, and then I'm like going through them. And so, you know, there's a going through unprocessed collections versus processed collections, is, you know, they're kind of a different animal. You know, they're, they're very, they're not organized and not filtered. They're really interesting. And then, you know, kind of another function of doing a story in the recent past is that I got to deal with sources that were what we call born digital. So stuff that never, you know, as opposed to, we have a lot of sources now that have been digitized, but started life as material objects or paper objects. You know, there's a lot more sources for some of these stories that, you know, started out as blog posts, or email chains, or trying to think of what else like, like listserves, message boards, you know, things like that. And so, you know, kind of developing the skills like to  find that stuff was really interesting. So I got to kind of, you know, blend together a lot of different kinds of sources, oral sources, documentary sources, born digital sources, you know, to tell the story, and then there was just kind of the issue of, you know, writing writing history, that's not, it's not settled yet, or it's not passed yet. Although, you know, it has been a kind of activist slogan in, in AIDS activism, since the late 80s, early 90s, that the AIDS crisis is not over, because activists are always kind of pushing up against the process of, like, forgetting in historical amnesia, that we, I don't know if it's just in this country we seem to be really good at. We've already forgotten that COVID COVID is here, and it seems like. You know, so so there's that aspect of it,

too, is like running up against kind of people sense that, you know, because the epidemic doesn't, it isn't killing people with, you know, with, with a relative degree of like, social, social and cultural capital, ie: white gay men, that it's not coming by gay men as much anymore in the way that it was, you know, say in like, 1993. You know, the  epidemic is over was like very much not over other than Miami Dade County, which has one of the, you know, highest rates of new HIV infections in the country. And so we see that, you know, in places all across the US south where, we have really weak healthcare infrastructure, you know. So so it's definitely not over. And then, after 2016, we were in a position of, of looking at taking a giant step backwards in terms of repealing the Affordable Care Act. That's when I got involved as an activist in some of the direct action to stop repeal of the ACA, and in a way that I was actually, like, got involved in that and was trained in in direct action tactics by some of the people that I had written about and then was arrested alongside some that I had written about, which is really kind of an interesting, full circle moment, that I think, you know, it gave me a little bit of perspective on, on what I had written about, you know, in terms of what it feels like to get arrested, you know, doing civil disobedience. But it also gave me a lot of respect, you know, or gave me an increased respect for the organizing work that people had done; because I got a more kind of experiential, or embodied sense of what it what it might mean, to sustain that kind of organizing over a period of time, because it's really tiring. It's like, really, really tiring. And, you know, I it's amazing that some of the folks that I've written about that I wrote about in the book, have been doing that work for for decades. Um, you know, it just gave me a another layer of, like awe and respect for, for for the folks in the book.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:18  
Yeah. So you were talking at the beginning about how when you started the the initial paper, the research paper that led into this, how you had this vision of sort of who was affected by HIV AIDS. So, you know, obviously, you weren't the only one that sort of had that vision and it seems like even organizations that were trying to help and the government and all sorts of people were viewing this as a disease of white gay men. And so what what were the sort of things that the the groups these, you know, in your seven chapters in the book that these groups had to face, like the idea of sort of a culturally competent messenger you know, what, what all were they trying to do to make sure that the the people who were helped were not just the white gay men who had this disease, but in fact, you know, all sorts of people. You're talking specifically about African Americans, but you know, it's it's a disease that doesn't discriminate.  Right?

Dan Royles  20:10  
Right. Yeah, I mean, culturally competent programs messaging is a big part of it. So you're delivering messages about HIV, and, and language or, you know, using, you know, kind of meanings that have traction in communities you're trying to reach, and making sure to use messengers that have purchase in those communities, you know, was a big part of it. The idea among, you know, some of the bigger AIDS service organizations, I think, early on, was that, you know, you could take a poster made, developed kind of you tacitly with my game end in mind, and maybe, like, switch out the models, and, you know, that'll be fine. You know, but that doesn't really get you super far, right. And then you also need to think about, you know, like educational programs, like seminars and workshops, and how you develop those things, um, you know, not in a way that's just, like, develop it for one population, and like, quote, unquote, translate it for another, but like, how do you develop programs, like from the ground up with, with as with, with specific, you know, minority communities in mind. You know, there's also a significant effort among some of these groups, especially to not just treat HIV as a biomedical problem, right, not just like, okay, like, you know, promote condoms, promote treatment when we have it, you know, safe sex and, and maybe, you know, maybe needles, needle exchange, and, and that will take care of it; but to really look at the constellation of factors in a person's life or in a in a community, then make people honorable to HIV. So things like housing insecurity, you know, things like, like, overall health care access, food insecurity, mass incarceration, you know, to look at a kind of bigger or more holistic picture of people's vulnerability, and to not just address HIV, but like, address HIV in the context of those things, you know. So there are some folks in the book with strong connections to, you know, the work of decarceration or prison abolition, you know, to housing justice, you know, to this, this much wider set of social justice issues; because, you know, like, we can think of HIV as a disease. We can also think of HIV as the symptom of a disease and the disease is inequity. So, like we can, we can cure HIV tomorrow; it will not solve the bigger problem. The bigger problem is inequity. And, you know, if we did, we were able to cure HIV tomorrow, we would just see the same kinds of health inequities crop up in the current pandemic, or the next pandemic, right. I mean, like, we saw the same kind of thing that we saw that we have seen with HIV, come up again, with COVID, you know, like, who is getting sick and dying of COVID? It is disproportionately people who are vulnerable in at least one way, you know, because of their race, because of their, you know, citizenship status, because of job insecurity, because of housing insecurity. Like, all of these things, impact people, people's vulnerability to epidemic disease. And so we need to take care of, you know, those those bigger things, which is a bigger project, but a more important project because of it.

Kelly Therese Pollock  24:08  
I was struck as I was reading your book about the importance of religion. So, you know, we sort of know in the abstract that the Black church is really important to to a lot of Black communities, that the idea that you have to think about religion and the religious aspects in order to reach African Americans who are affected by HIV AIDS, you know. It just it was like a mental leap that I didn't make, even when I went, you know, sort of started reading. Could you talk some about that.? The religion, several of the groups are very explicitly religious and use religion, and even the ones that aren't explicitly religious know that they have to reach the churches, so can you talk about that aspect, and what is the importance of that in the story.

Dan Royles  24:51  
Yeah, I think there's two when we're talking about specifically about the Black church, you know, by which I mean, kind of Black Christian faith institutions, when we're talking about the Black church and HIV AIDS, I think there's at least two kind of key things that are important here. One is reducing stigma within the church around HIV, as and along with that queer sexuality. And so, as I talk about it in the book, you know, that can mean same sex desire, that can also mean I, you know, other kind of stigmatized sexualities, like single motherhood, kind of all those other things, that, you know, if you take a kind of hardline view contravene biblical teaching. By reducing the stigma around those things within the church, so that people do not feel stigmatized because of those things. Because we know that stigma is really damaging, you know, it's damaging kind of at an individual level, like internalizing the stigma is, is really just, you know, kind of destructive to your mind and body. But also, it affects, you know, it makes people less willing to have the kind of conversations that they need around sexual health and sexual history in order to keep themselves and each other, you know, safe. So that's one thing. And then the other thing is that, you know, what some of these groups do, and the group in particular that I read about is the Balm in Gilead, is to work with churches to make them not only reduce stigma, but to make them into avenues for the delivery of, you know, accurate information about HIV and AIDS, and, you know, HIV prevention, it's treatment, and things like that. So it's kind of, you know, you want to like reduce the stigma, so that, you know, you don't, so you aren't living with the burden of HIV stigma, that's not being reinforced by an institution that is as powerful as Black church, but then also leveraging the power of the church to deliver accurate information. It's like reducing the kind of it's like a harm reduction on one side, and then doing the positive work of information delivery on the other side, that's like the Black church part of it. I also write about the Nation of Islam, in the book,

which is a whole different kind of thing. And it was one of the stories that was like, the most surprising for me to find, in doing this research. I did not expect in the beginning to write about the Nation of Islam. But I started writing about conspiracy theories around HIV and AIDS within Black communities, because kind of belief in conspiracy theories, is more prevalent, and around HIV and AIDS is more prevalent in Black communities than other groups. And also we know, is linked to, you know, people not taking, you know, their HIV medication, which has all kinds of negative health effects. You know, maybe this, maybe, like, bears less explanation now than it did when I wrote the chapter. Right? You know, but in doing research on conspiracy thinking, I found this story of a drug that was purportedly developed in Kenya, in the late 80s is like a miracle cure for AIDS, like literally was from was promoted as, like something that could cure people of AIDS. And it, you know, it, it wasn't really taken seriously by, you know, the WHO, (the World Health Organization) or by the mainstream media; but it was picked up by Black newspapers in the United States as this, you know, news story that was being allegedly, you know, like, ignored by the mainstream press, because it was out of Kenya and, you know, of Africa and like, nothing good is supposed to come out of Africa. Um, but also because the prevailing theory, which is, since you know, been confirmed by by genetic research was that HIV had come from Africa, had like emerged, you know, from like, the Congo, Congo River Delta region of Africa. And, you know, that theory was one that African Americans found very stigmatizing, right? So the Nation of Islam ended up acquiring the US distribution rights for this drug called Kenron. It's called Kenron, it was called Kenron because it was like, based on the name of the hospital, which is like Kenyan Medical Research Institute. The Nation of Islam acquired the rights to this drug Kenron and then wages like grassroots campaigns to get federal backing for a clinical trial that which they ended up doing in 1993. And the trial never really got off the ground. Then we got, you know, highly effective anti retroviral drugs anyway, um, you know. But the story kind of captures the deep suspicion within Black communities around, you know, the theories about the origins of AIDS, or the origins of HIV, as well as, you know, suspicion of the mainstream medical establishment, of the mainstream media. And I think, you know, including the Nation of Islam, like in this bigger picture, again, like, and I'm not upgrading Rashidah Hassan and the Nation of Islam, you know, because they're, you know, Black Muslim, or anything like that. But, you know, in the way that Rashidah Hassan kind of expanded my idea about, like, what an AIDS activist woulod look like, I think, you know, we need to kind of account for the groups like the Nation of Islam, and the larger story of AIDS activism, you know, even though like, you know, they promoted a bogus drug. They promoted a bogus drug, and have all kinds of retrograde ideas about, you know, gender and sexuality, or what I would consider to be retrograde ideas about gender and sexuality. You know, they did a kind of AIDS activism that, you know, was important to the communities in which they were active. Like, they didn't, it's not like, you know, they were just speaking to their membership, you know, their message. Gay, found a foothold in, you know, in a larger circle of people, you know, including some Black gay groups. There's a really interesting moment, around 1993 or four, where some of the Black gay and lesbian groups in Washington DC threw in with the Nation of Islam to compete for a contract against Whitman Walker Clinic, which is the predominantly white gay organization, you know, because they felt like they were so kind of marginal in a group like Whitman Walker. They threw in not uncontroversially but threw in with the Nation of Islam, you know, which was explicitly anti gay, but, you know, I think also kind of speaks to the difficult position that some of those Black gay activists found themselves in, you know, kind of navigating between racism and homophobia, you know, both of which are deeply entrenched entrenched in our society.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:45  
Yeah, so in your last chapter of the book, you talk a lot about gender. And so we, you know, even now, as we're having this conversation, like, okay, we've expanded this idea of, of who gets HIV and AIDS to include African Americans. But probably the picture in people's head is still gay men, right. And so, but it's very much the case that Black women in the US and in Africa are getting HIV and AIDS as well. And I thought it was so interesting when you talked about the idea that because the CDC studies had been done on men, that even the diagnosis of when HIV becomes AIDS was based on what men experience. So can you talk some about that, then about this? What what women who are, are facing this disease are going through the kinds of struggles that that they have to fight as activists being sort of completely outside of what you would imagine of somebody who is getting HIV AIDS?

Dan Royles  33:47  
Yeah, so for the first dozen years of the epidemic, um, so from you heard from the first dozen years of the recognized epidemic, I should say, so 1981 to 1993, women really had women were literally fighting to, women with AIDS were fighting to get recognized as women with AIDS, because as you said, the CDC case definition for AIDS was based on how the disease presented, um, in the populations where it was first recognized, which were white gay men. So, you know, white gay men or just, you know, men in general, get a different set of opportunistic infections when they have advanced HIV disease, than do women. So you know, for example, men don't get pelvic inflammatory disease. Men don't get cervical cancer. Men don't get recurrent yeast infections; but those are opportunistic infections that women with advanced HIV disease had had frequently. So women were waging a years long campaign against the CDC to revise the case definition so that they could get diagnosed with AIDS. And I want to point out, that's not just a, you know, semantic concern. There's all kinds of, you know, disability, Social Security, housing assistance that you that was available to people with AIDS, that wasn't accessible to women with AIDS because they could not be diagnosed with AIDS. So they waged this years long campaign, in which women of color and Black women in particular, were really at the forefront. Women like Katrina Haslip, like Phyllis Sharp, Iris De La Cruz, were, you know, marching on the CDC, demonstrating at the Department of Health and Human Services, you know, doing all kinds of work just to get recognized. And some of the activists who were involved in that work, the one that I write about in in this chapter, in particular is a woman named Dazon Dixon Diallo, who's still, she's one of those who's been in the fight for decades. She is the executive director of a group called Sister Love out of Atlanta, that does that work in Atlanta, but also are in the, you know, in the US south, but also in South Africa. So they made the move in the early 2000s, to open a second headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the kind of idea that, you know, women in, Black women in the US South face a similar set of, you know, structural inequities that are also faced by women in the global south; and that, you know, doing doing this work together can be really productive in how we think about, you know, what it's going to take to, to to end the AIDS epidemic. And, as Dazon likes to say, and I'm, I'm gonna paraphrase here, but you know, Dazon likes to say that, when you talk about HIV, and ending the AIDS epidemic is going to be women who end it. Um, and I think there's a lot, there's a lot of truth that.

Kelly Therese Pollock  37:14  
Yeah. So you, of course, wrote this book, pre COVID. It was published once the COVID epidemic was raging already, but you know, it was written ahead of that. And so you have in this conversation made explicit connections to COVID. But what you connect it to in the book is the climate crisis, which, of course, is also very much upon us right now as we speak. So can you talk some about that? And that'll be sort of my my last question. What sorts of lessons we learned, and, of course, as we've said, the AIDS epidemic is not over either. But you know, what sorts of lessons we learned from these activists about, you know, what, who is affected by the climate crisis, what sort of work to do to solve, if we could solve the climate crisis, you know, and, of course, you're in South Florida, as you mentioned, and so, you know, this is got to be very top of mind to you, sort of at all times.

Dan Royles  38:11  
Yeah, all of these things are all raging here in South Florida. In terms of lessons, I mean, what we see very clearly in both in in HIV, and the climate crisis, and in COVID, is that the people who are, you know, the most marginalized, or the most disempowered, the most disenfranchised, are hit, are affected by disasters the most, and you know, that's whether we're talking about hurricanes, flooding, HIV, COVID, whatever. You know, the the most vulnerable are, are the most vulnerable. And so, you know, when you're talking about people who are poor, or immigrant, or Black, or women like, and when you, especially when you start talking about the intersection of those those vulnerabilities, you know, things can get very bad for people very quickly. So do we know, kind of off top, who is going to be the most affected, who is the most affected now by these disasters, who's going to be the most affected in the future? So we really need to focus our energy on reducing the vulnerability of those communities and that means, that means making our society less unequal and, you know, which probably sounds like a utopian or maybe unrealistic project. But, um, you know, I don't want it to be, you know, we know who's going to be the most affected and, you know, we can't think small in terms of solutions, right? I mean, to use the kind of like, to use the, the HIV or AIDS analogy, like, we can't be thinking about any of these things just in terms of like, condom, you know, like getting people to use condoms or you know, just getting vaccines into arms. Those are important, those are important steps, you know, but we can't limit the kind of horizon of, of our goals or our vision or action to those things like we need, we need to make our society more just and more equal, if we're going to weather the crises that we know, are coming. And so if we know that we need to make our society more equal, then that means that we need to, like build, we need to build power in those communities. And it can't be a matter of people from the outside doing to, or even for, but doing with, you know. So what's really powerful about some of the stories that I was able to tell in the book is about people organizing in ways, you know, sometimes across lines of race, or class, or gender or sexuality, in ways that devolve power to the people who are, you know, by dint of, you know, the, the place they were born, or the identities that they were born with, are the least empowered. So, you know, we really need to think about solutions, in that way, in not only solutions that focus on the people with the least power but that increase the power of the people who have the least power. You know, that's how we build a society that is more resilient to use a word that's a little bit complicated. But you know, that really is how we build a more just equitable, durable, resilient society is by you know, evening out that that imbalance. Kelly: So how can people get your book? They can get my book by going to the UNC press website. I think it's It is Search for "To Make the Wounded Whole." I really like people buying the book from either the press or their local independent bookstore. Um, so if you go to I think it's indiebound com, you can find independent bookstore near you. Here in South Florida, I really like a bookstore called Books & Books. I try to order all my books through them. So yeah, patronize your local independent book, bookseller, or, you can order directly from And also make sure to ask your local library, university or public library to order the book as well so that people can can access it for free.

Kelly Therese Pollock  42:53  
And shout out to the series within UNC press that you are published through just quickly became becoming my favorite Academic Press book series. You want to just mention that series?

Dan Royles  43:05  
Yeah, the Justice, Power and Politics series is edited by Heather Thompson and Rhonda Williams, and is a fantastic, fantastic series within UNC presses offerings. You know, they published some really good work on, you know, the fight against mass incarceration, all kinds of like, if you're interested in activists, social justice history, this is a great series to check out. And it's one that I'm really, really just honored to be to be part of to be published alongside, you know, some other folks in the series is is really an honor. So I'm glad to be part of it.

Kelly Therese Pollock  43:47  
Yeah. Well, Dan, is there anything else you wanted to make sure we talked about?

Dan Royles  43:51  
No, I think we covered a lot. So thanks again for having me on. And, you know, people can find me at Let me know if you'd like the book. I'd love to hear from readers.

Kelly Therese Pollock  44:02  
Excellent. I'll put a link to your website in the show notes too, so people can find you. Thanks, Dan.

Dan Royles  44:07  
Thank you. 

Teddy  44:09  
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Dan Royles

Dan Royles is a historian of the United States, African American life and culture, public health, sexuality, social movements, and the human body. His current book project, To Make the Wounded Whole: African-American Responses to HIVAIDS/ examines grassroots responses to the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on black communities. Looking at the claims that African American AIDS activists made on government institutions, private granting agencies, and AIDS service organizations, this project locates their efforts to combat the deadly epidemic in the context of much longer histories of black health activism, and the way that African Americans have framed their fight for inclusion and equality in the United States in relation to other struggles throughout the African Diaspora and global south. Dr. Royles is also conducting an oral history project among African American AIDS activists and building an online archive of materials related to HIV and AIDS in African American communities. He also contributes regularly to Vitae, the academic jobs web portal from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and to OutHistory.