For Joel Jackson, Director of Inclusion and Equity Strategies for the Urban Health Initiative at the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM), participating in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago is an opportunity to contribute to a healthier society – and when a community is healthy, everyone benefits. Joel is part of a fundraising team for the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE) through UCM, raising funds to support CCHE’s programming which includes youth drop-in and social support services , programs that Joel helped with.
This type of work is not new to Joel, as he has been working in HIV care and prevention since he was 21 and living in St. Louis, MO. There, he attended one of the first meetings of a support group called Tuesday Night Crew (TNC) a program at Project ARK (AIDS Resources and Knowledge) through Washington University in St. Louis.
“I attended the very second support group that they had and remembered feeling, for the first time in my life, that I was home,” said Joel. “I remember feeling so gracious, feeling happy, feeling filled, because I finally found the space where I felt comfortable and safe being all of who I am.”
This group was specifically for Black and Latino gay men.
“There were times I would go into gay spaces but feel the need to check my Blackness at the door; or I would go to Black spaces and feel the need to check my gayness at the door—but this was one space where I didn’t feel I needed to check anything at the door, I could just be myself,” said Joel.
Since this introduction to the field of HIV care and prevention work, Joel has not left. Through the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, Chicago’s Ballroom community, and the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, Joel has found his home in this city.
Some of Joel’s favorite memories of participating in AIDS Run & Walk have been the creative fundraising events he comes up with, like a wine tasting event where friends and colleagues attended, made donations and enjoyed tasting different wines.
Aside from the excitement of reuniting with community at Soldier Field, Joel participates in Run & Walk to remind his peers of the urgency of the HIV epidemic. “It perhaps lost the call to action that it once had; at the same time HIV is still a disease that impacts so many lives, in so many ways,” said Joel.
As HIV care services have expanded today to be a lot more holistic, investing in HIV care and prevention is not only helping to provide care for HIV management. It also means helping manage one’s mental health and other chronic illnesses, providing transgender individuals with transition services, and providing housing and food support to those who need it.
“It helps to meet the minimum basic needs of an individual and not just individuals living with HIV –everyone benefits from a healthy society,” said Joel.
To learn more about AIDS Run & Walk Chicago and donate to Joel's AIDS Run & Walk Chicago fundraiser click here.