AIDS activist, founder of Black AIDS Institute
In 1981, Phill Wilson and partner Chris Brownlie, who owned a small giftware company together, found themselves in a doctor’s office, puzzling over mysteriously swollen lymph nodes. While no test yet existed to accurately diagnose their condition, both were infected with HIV, which was already sending shockwaves throughout the gay community. Since then, Wilson, 55, has made it his life’s mission to battle the epidemic, particularly within the black community.
Living in L.A. at the time, he and Brownlie quickly became involved with every area organization tackling this new plague, and helped to found AIDS Project Los Angeles in the process. Tragically, Brownlie succumbed to AIDS in 1989.
Wilson funneled his anger and sorrow into even more intense community efforts: In 1999 he founded The Black AIDS Institute, where he remains Executive Director, and has helped create numerous other service and community organizations including the Chris Brownlie Hospice, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the National Minority AIDS Council, the Los Angeles County Gay Men of Color Consortium and the CAEAR Coalition.
In an interview for PBS’ Frontline, Wilson shared:
As early as 1984, 1985, 25% of the AIDS cases in America were African-American. The majority of children with AIDS were African-American. The majority of women with AIDS were African-American. African- Americans have always been disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. The thing that strikes me about the AIDS epidemic is that, quite frankly, it’s always been about race, or it’s always been about ‘the other,’ and that’s one reason why stigma has been such a barrier to end this epidemic.
Asked what advice he would give young people today, he said:
“I basically would say to anyone, young, old or otherwise, that there will be an accounting, and you have to be comfortable with that. [The] price of the ticket for life is to leave the world a better place than you found it. That’s the minimum payment that we owe for the privilege of having spent time on this planet. Make sure that you at least pay the minimum dues.”
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