Barbara Joseph contracted HIV in 1984 when she was given blood during surgery. She was diagnosed with HIV six years later. Searching for resources, Joseph discovered a lack of information and services specific to African Americans, especially women. She decided to do something about the void. Hoping that her story could help others, she began speaking out in her local community. In 1999, she founded Positive Efforts (PE) in Houston, which provides HIV education about risk reduction for those most vulnerable to exposure. While focused on African-American women, PE also offers services to black men and Latino men and women. Joseph, now PE’s executive director, spoke with POZ about her commitment to HIV advocacy.

Barbara Joseph What three adjectives best describe you?
Genuine, combative, audacious.

What is your greatest achievement?
Bringing the concept of Positive Efforts to life.

What is your greatest regret?
Not being able to decrease the number of those being infected [with the virus], especially African-American women. We’ve got new medicines [that help some] people live longer, but [others] are suffering because they’re not able to access care or treatment like I thought they would be able to.

What keeps you up at night?
Trying to figure out how we can change the perceptions in the [black] community [about HIV]. With all of these [programs] in place, people are still not listening; their behaviors are not changing.

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Having access to care and medication. Because I [run] a nonprofit organization and I make more than $30,000 a year, I don’t qualify for any [public assistance]. I’m waiting for health care reform to kick in so the laws will change and I’ll be able to access affordable care.

What is the best advice you ever received?
If you can save one life [by sharing your status], then you’ve done what God wants you to do.

Whom in the HIV/AIDS community do you admire the most?
Steven Bradley, who danced in the Joffrey Ballet and was instrumental in starting the local AIDS Mastery in Houston, and James Garner, MD, an openly gay physician living with AIDS who worked at the Thomas Street Clinic, the first freestanding AIDS clinic in Houston—they died attempting to make a difference for everyone.

What drives you to do what you do?
[The thought that] if I can keep one person from getting infected, then that one can educate somebody else.

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