As I return to NMAC this April after exactly 30 years, allow me to take you down memory lane...

April 1994 was a busy time for me. I had turned in my Master’s thesis at UNC Chapel Hill, was running the review process for the North Carolina Health Department’s first HOPWA grant applicants, studying for finals, and my friend Phil from Maryland had died of an AIDS-related illness. I felt compelled to find time and make the journey from Chapel Hill to DC for his memorial service. Phil’s service was one of several that I and others attended in the 1990s, the early days of the epidemic before effective HIV treatment was available.

While in DC that weekend of April 1994, I saw an ad in The Washington Blade. The National Minority AIDS Council was hiring technical assistance specialists to provide capacity building assistance to community-based organizations providing HIV prevention and treatment services for people of color. Between the last week of class and final exams, I returned to DC for an interview with Paul Kawata and Pablo Manuel Magaz (NMAC’s then Director of Technical Assistance) that would change my life and alter my journey into HIV, public health and health policy.

Harold Phillips

Harold PhillipsCourtesy of the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy

What I remember most about working at NMAC from 1994 to 1997 was the pace and the passion. We were the Fast and the Furious before it was a movie franchise. Fast-paced because we knew lives were at stake, and furious and passionate because all of us had lost friends and lovers like Phil, Dennis, Marc, Janet and Tracey.

The loss was enormous and the pain too much to process in a real way. We felt the injustice and knew they deserved better access to HIV research, HIV testing, prevention, care and treatment. Dr. King once said, “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” We saw the inequality and demanded humane responses and actions from the government and society, with a sense of urgency, often without apology.

Leaving NMAC in 1997, I joined HRSA and stayed in the federal government till January 2024 to advance HIV programs and policy. My decades of fast paced and passionate work in and with the government focused on creating and making systems work better for our communities — in memory of those we lost and even those harmed by the government and society.

While leading the development of our National HIV/AIDS Strategy, I included a sense of urgency, passion, and a need to address injustice in this national plan. Our current national strategy calls for us to accelerate our efforts, use science and data and focus on priority populations. It acknowledges that we cannot end the HIV epidemic if we do not address the HIV disparities among communities of color.

As I begin a new-yet-familiar journey at NMAC, we will convene the eighth annual Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit in Seattle from April 19th to 20th to highlight the implementation of biomedical tools in our prevention and treatment efforts. Centered on research, science and data, the summit’s goal is to bring science back to the community and create access to the biomedical tools to help end the HIV epidemic.

I am excited to be back at NMAC. I look forward to working with government, academia, the private sector and the community in this new role. I am older and wiser but 30 years later, I have a greater sense of urgency, passion and fury at the injustices and health disparities that still persist. I hope you will join me.

In solidarity,

Harold Phillips

Deputy Director of Programs, NMAC