We’re thrilled to announce that Fenway Health staff members Jojo Amanfu, Jonathan Reveil, and Lawrence Vinson have been named to POZ Magazine’s 2014 POZ 100, a list of influential AIDS activists under the age of 30. This annual recognition honors those who, three decades after the start of the epidemic, are continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. As POZ Magazine’s editors put it, “These young people could be the ones to finally put an end to AIDS.” Please allow us to introduce you to three dedicated activists who are working tirelessly to end ignorance around HIV/AIDS and connect patients with respectful and compassionate care services.
Jojo Amanfu, Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center
Jojo is a Health Navigator at the Borum, responsible for getting the center’s young patients – many of whom are homeless or street-involved – into stable health care. His career started at the Justice Research Institute (JRI), a social justice organization dedicated to helping clients navigate the human services and educational systems. Jojo also volunteered at the Pine Street Inn homeless center, organizing records for their TB clinic as part of his practicum.
With an educational background in public health, Jojo found himself drawn to AIDS activism at the Borum when he witnessed numerous clients having difficulty accessing the care and resources they so badly needed – or not even knowing how to get started. Currently in the midst of health insurance Open Enrollment season, Jojo hopes to get as many people signed up for MassHealth as possible.
“When I was at the front desk, I would help clients figure out where they needed to go to get those resources, call ahead and make appointments for them, whatever needed to be done,” he said.
Jojo finds inspiration in the excitement and growth of his clients, the dedication of his Fenway family, and in the important work he gets to be a part of.
“In order to do this work, you have to pull inspiration from many different sources,” he explained. “That’s how you have to see the world – there’s good and light in everything and everyone.”
Jonathan Reveil, The Fenway Institute
Jonathan is a Public Health Worker at The Fenway Institute. Before joining Fenway, Jonathan spent years educating the public on HIV/AIDS, focusing especially on church groups and young people. HIV-positive people may struggle to find acceptance within church communities, he explained, often facing discrimination due to their HIV status, sexual orientation, or both.
With World AIDS Day just around the corner, Jonathan is currently working with several Boston area churches to put together an event raising awareness of the realities of HIV and exploring how churches can be more supportive of the community.
“It would be beautiful for me to see this year end with people from different religious backgrounds coming together to have an honest dialogue,” Jonathan said.
He credits his Haitian background as the root of his AIDS activism. “From the beginning, I always wanted to lessen the stigma that if you are someone of color who is impacted by HIV, you can’t access the resources you need,” he said.
A major source of inspiration in Jonathan’s work is Ryan White, who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion as a child and became a national advocate in the battle for legal protection of HIV-positive people, as well as the namesake of the Ryan White CARE Act.
“In the face of everything that was going on – he was mistreated in school and had to leave his hometown – he showed courage,” Jonathan explained. “When you do this work, you can feel misunderstood. His bravery in standing up for himself as a young person, reminds me who I’m working for and why it’s important.”
Lawrence Vinson, The Fenway Institute
Lawrence is Youth Linkage to Care Project Manager at The Fenway Institute and the Borum. Previously a social services case manager at both Codman Square Health Center and Boston Medical Center, Lawrence has many years of experience helping connect patients with care services around HIV needs and beyond.
While at BMC, Lawrence witnessed firsthand how many people were lacking quality care and the knowledge of how to access that care.
“Over the years, looking at my family and community – specifically from my home state of Georgia – I have seen the health disparities. AIDS runs rampant, especially in the LGBT community,” he said. “I think what I wanted to do was just make a difference, one person at a time.”
Lawrence is Youth Linkage to Care Project Manager for the S.M.I.L.E Linkage to Care (LTC) Program at The Fenway Institute and the Borum. The SMILE Linkage to Care LTC Program is designed to provide linkage to medical care and additional supports for youth who are newly diagnosed, having difficulties staying engaged in care, or new to the Boston area. This project is for Boston youth ages 12-24.
Lawrence is also involved in the Boston chapter of Connect to Protect (C2P) program, of which The Fenway Institute is a site. C2P is a national effort to reduce HIV/AIDS rates among adolescents and young adults through the collaborative efforts of communities and health researchers. He hopes that through C2P and the programs of Fenway, he can continue to bring attention to the AIDS crisis in Boston and how the face of AIDS has changed over the years.
One of Lawrence’s greatest sources of inspiration in his work is his mother, a survivor of lupus for over 20 years. “Looking at her power through everything she has been through, while supporting her community and us young folks, it’s been really inspiring,” he said. “It made me want to do my part. We all have roles here on Earth, and one of my roles is to make a difference in my clients’ lives.”
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