Auntjuan Wiley is the CEO of AIDS Walk South Dallas Inc. The mission of the organization is to empower all persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS through prevention, advocacy, education, peer support, linkage to care, and emergency financial assistance.
Wiley held the celebration of the organization’s 11th anniversary on June 25 and spoke with rolling out about the event.
What inspired you to focus on HIV/AIDS health issue?
I am an individual who has been living with HIV for almost 30 years, and I’m celebrating 35 years of working in public health, HIV specifically, and other health disparities. I had no plans of being the CEO of an organization, it just happened to me and it was truly a blessing. This community wanted to see a walk in their community, so we created AIDS Walk South Dallas, but of course, I could not sit by for 12 months and just focus on a walk, I had to incorporate programs and services, and really make sure the needs of people in the Dallas area are being met year-round, and not just during a walk.
How did you get involved with bringing that mandate to fruition?
There was a meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center about 13 years ago. I wasn’t at the meeting. … In that meeting, the question was asked, “What would you like to see in your community?” and the response was that they wanted an AIDS walk in the community. Someone in the room said that they needed to reach out to me. The leader that was in that space reached out to me and took me to lunch, we talked about it, and they told me what the community wanted. I began to research every walk from the largest to the smallest, and everything in between. That’s how AIDS Walk South Dallas was created — from the ground up. The walk is simply another opportunity to educate, bring awareness, and shed a light on the disease, especially in this [region]. This walk is actually held in a community that has one of the highest morbidity rates of HIV, meaning it has some of the most concentrated HIV cases in the area.
Why is it beneficial to be educated and have the resources and tools when talking about HIV?
There are so many myths out there as it pertains to HIV, even when it comes to just basic modes of transmission. There are still people believing that you can transmit HIV from a toilet seat, silverware, kissing and hugging. [There are] still people out there that believe that, because they are not educated. It’s still so important that in everything we do, we start off by educating the people and not walking into spaces assuming that everyone knows about HIV. We can never have too many resources for people living with HIV, [especially since] one of the greatest gaps around the country is housing.