We know that the fight against HIV/AIDS has and will continue to take a combined effort on the parts of many. I had the opportunity to sit down with Maurice Evans, someone who is at the forefront in the fight against HIV/AIDS and has dedicated his time and energy to reducing the disparities we see right here locally in our own communities.
Maurice Evans is the HIV Prevention Specialist for Cascade AIDS Project. He works specifically with Communities of Color to prevent HIV infections, support and empower people affected and infected by HIV/AIDS, and eliminate HIV/AIDS-related stigma. His dedication does not end at Cascade AIDS Project, but spills out into the community that he is deeply apart of.
Khalil: Maurice, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I want to take an opportunity for you to share with others, not only a little more about yourself, but also your thought on this epidemic that after 30 years continues to devastate our communities. First let me start off by asking you how long you have been doing this important work?
Maurice: I’ve worked in this field for 19 years. I began Volunteering in the food pantry in 1995 then I became a Pre & Post-test counselor in 1998. I’ve done many things from Van driver to Payee.
Khalil: I want to encourage folks in Portland, in Oregon, and across the U.S. to get more involved in this work. Tell us Maurice, how did you get involved in this fight?
Maurice: I got involved in this work because few people at the time wanted to work with people with HIV/AIDS. I was diagnosed with HIV in 1983 and I was losing friends at a staggering rate and the only thing that kept me sane was to begin working to support and provide hope to my peers and work to help end all the suffering & dying.
Khalil: We know that Oregon has a small population of People of Color (less than 23%) with the majority of those folks residing in Multnomah County. How do you feel that working with communities of color in Oregon/Multnomah County is different from other areas?
Maurice: The main difference is it’s such a small and fragmented community. So most MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) of color don’t always get their support from other people of color or even feel a desire to.
Khalil: What are some of the challenges to working with communities of color in the Portland Metropolitan area?
Maurice: The biggest challenge is unifying MSM of color. They are scattered throughout the Portland Metropolitan area and they’re a very small community. It is also a challenge to get them to come out and test because of the apathy, or fear of being stigmatized.
Khalil: Do you feel there are some benefits that are unique to working in this community, and if so what are they?
Maurice: The most unique thing is the amount of resources available to do the work. The Portland community is very supportive of funding HIV/AIDS prevention & support. It is a pleasure to experience the cooperative efforts between the different agencies working in the HIV/AIDS field and the collaborative opportunities that exist.
Khalil: This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the first known case of AIDS. Why after 30 years are communities of color still being hit so hard by HIV/AIDS?
Maurice: The apathetic view that many in communities of color take concerning HIV/AIDS along with failure to test regularly has had a great effect on the rise in the number of new infections, as well as the inequity in accessing medical care.
Khalil: For a long time there have been many myths surrounding HIV/AIDS, one of those being that communities of color engage in more unsafe sexual behaviors and are more sexually promiscuous than their white counterparts. We know for a fact that sexual behaviors in the white community are similar to those in communities of color so why do we see such alarming disparities in HIV infection rates?
Maurice: Again I feel that not being able to access medical care as well as the systemic racism that still exists within this country as being mostly the blame for the large disparities we see between these two communities.
Khalil: Let’s talk about solutions. What can be done both nationally and locally to change the infection rates we see among communities of color?
Maurice: I believe the answer lies in getting this community to understand the power that they actually have to change their community viral load. I believe work needs to continue on both prevention and work with folks that are HIV positive to make a difference in the number of new infections going forward.
Khalil: Some say that sexual behavior will not change and that trying to change people’s sexual behavior is not the right approach. What are your thoughts on that?
Maurice: I believe that the behavior doesn’t necessarily have to change as much as the attitude towards the behavior and a greater acceptance of the ramifications the behavior can have on one’s sexual health.
Khalil: If you had every Latino and African American Oregonians ear right now what would you tell them?
Maurice: Love yourself enough to take care of yourself and advocate for yourself, live your life with your eyes wide open and don’t go chasing fairytales.
Khalil: As you leave folks with some final words I want to thank you again for not only letting me pick your brain, but for your efforts in our community. You do a lot everyday and I truly believe that if everyone did a quarter of what you do we would be so much closer to seeing an HIV free generation. With that said, for folks that want to do more, but don’t know where to begin, tell us what we can do in our everyday lives?
Maurice: Correct people when they say things that breed stigma; love and support you, family, friends, and loved ones.
For more information about Maurice Evans, the work that Cascade AIDS Project is doing and/or ways to get involved click here