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Sheryl Lee Ralph: Art Can Be Activism

Sheryl Lee Ralph: Art Can Be Activism 

By Jack Bunting

We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it. Sheryl Lee Ralph began working to raise health equity for others after witnessing widescale indifference tthe suffering of people dying of AIDS 

As she introduced everyone to the first Deena Jones in Dreamgirls on Broadway, she coped with losing a third of her original cast to AIDS. This galvanized her to using art and activism to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS 

In this Q&A, Sheryl Lee Ralph gives her perspective about what health equity looks like to her, based on the AIDS epidemic, and the last 40 years of her humanitarian work. 

Q: With health equity, “access” to health is very much about feeling welcome and comfortable, once we enter the front door of a health clinic. We have come a long way since the 80s, but not nearly enough. What would you like to see today in 2021?

A: I would love to erase hate for all! Not just some but for everyone. I would us like to grow in compassion. I would like to see an end to systemic racism. I also know that this is all very difficult because human beings always seem to need to hate, ignore, disrespect, disregard somebody - I’ve seen it get worse over the yearsI want us to grow out of our pain and despair, not create more of it. 

Q: Do you see any familiar mistakes from the AIDS epidemic being repeated with the COVID pandemic? Is there any opportunity to do things better for people during this pandemic? What would that be? 

A: The similarities are so eerily familiarWe must make a genuine effort to crush hate. The AIDS epidemic grew because many in this world hated gay people and didn’t care whether they lived or diedThey most certainly didn’t care about Black Africans eitherHate fueled the disease globallyIt was an awful time, like many other moments, in our history. 

COVID-19 isn’t much different. The world was slow to take action because it labeled and associated the virus to a nation of peopleBy the time the rest of the world realized it was a human disease, it was too late, resulting in the death of over half a million in the U.S. alone 

If only we could get humans to truly care about other human beings, maybe things would be different for us all. If only we could get humans to value themselves and their health betterBack in the day we knew that condoms were a proven barrier to the virus, and it was a battle to get people to use them! I see the same battle raging now with anti-maskers and COVID-19. 

Q: Women living with HIV arepractically invisiblein research and most other forms of HIV prevention and treatment efforts, compared to men. If we were to take a pulse right now, are we getting nearer to better equity for women living with HIV?  

A: I think we’re getting close, but we need more from the healthcare system 

Women--Black and Brown women--are invisible because the system doesn’t want to see us. They are in many ways blinded by their own perceptions of who we are and our need for care. The healthcare system must lose their bias and increase their research and treatment efforts to meet Black women where they are and include in the studies. They must work to develop trust where it is sorely needed.  

Q: Trust is an issue that many people of color have with healthcare, and for good reason. What do you think it will taketo help more people start to trust healthcare? 

A: By helping society and the healthcare systems to see the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities as human beings. There was a time when the healthcare community operated on Black people without anesthesia because it was thought that we didn’t feel pain. That’s hard to forget. Still there are doctors who ignore the cries for help from people of color because they don’t value or care about non-white, traditional patients or people who look like them. To be trans or ‘othered’ in certain medical spaces is to be totally ignored and disrespected. We must change the hearts and minds of other human beings. 

Q: Can you help us understand how the arts, especially music and theater—can help heal people?

A: One of the ways is by delivering messages of hope through words, music, and images. Writing scripts that normalize marginalized and stigmatized peopleOpening the door of opportunity for those same people to have their productions producedWhen people are SEEN and REPRESENTED WELL across distribution platforms, illumination takes placeWhen this occurs, we begin to normalize what was once marginalizedThen and only then can the healing start.  

Q: You were in the cast of the CBS daytime soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” while starring on Broadway in Dreamgirls. That seems like a busy schedule. What made you press on? Any anecdotes? 

A: I learned very early in my career that your 15 minutes of fame can be over quickly so it’s best to strike while the iron is hot in order to mold a long-lasting time in the industry. 

I pressed on because it became apparent to me that thDreamgirls and I were becoming a symbol of acceptance for young black girls and a symbol of hope for so many others especially the LGBT communityThe soap opera made me the business paramour of an older white man and that was way ahead of its time! 

Q: What can we all do to honor the memory of your cast members from Dreamgirls—and everyone else who has been taken by HIV? What is your advice?

A: I can hardly believe that it has been 40 years since the debut of Dreamgirls on Broadway. I am still saddened by losing a third of our original company to AIDS 

I founded The D.I.V.A. Foundation to never forget them and the art we lost with their deaths. We continue to create programs to raise awareness still for HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. We must all find our voices and use them. Sometimes we just need to pass the mic and help others speak. 

Q: How can the arts--especially music and theater—help heal people as we rebuild our hope and continue enduring this pandemic?

A: I created DIVAS Simply Singing! in an effort to raise HIV/AIDS awareness one song and committed artist at a time. Over 30 years we have seen that artistic activism works. 

If you paint, paint. If you sing, sing. If you dance, dance. Your art speaksArtists are the gate keepers to truth, and they must tell itI always encourage people to find their voice, because someone is waiting to hear it, learn from it, find their voice, and pay it forward! 

To Honor our Values, We Offer Hope

To Honor our Values, We Offer Hope

Weekend Wrap Message – Saturday, December 5, 2020, from David Brinkman, Desert AIDS Project CEO

On World AIDS Day 2020 We Re-Committed  

Fighting COVID did not distract us from marking World AIDS Day 2020 with an even greater commitment to end new transmissions and care for our patients living with HIV throughout their lives. We have reached significant milestones, yet the AIDS crisis isn't over. HIV infects 1.7 million people each year and kills another 690,000. 

Hope Begins with Health is our battle cry and our new campaign as we fight to continue care for PWH, as COVID continues to challenge us like nothing before.   

Our roots are deep from the lessons of compassionate care that the AIDS crisis taught us. From them we learned the importance of health equity for all, and COVID is calling on us to pay those lessons forward. We know that our founders would want us to expand our care to include COVID, a health crisis that long-term survivors are comparing to the earliest days of AIDS. You can read more here. 

Everyday Heroes 2020 Announced 

DAP is proud to honor the following Everyday Heroes for 2020: Dr. Terri Ketover and Dr. Tom Truhe.  

We honor them for their years of dedicated service and generous contributions of their passion, time and talents to DAP, and thousands of lives touched by their incredible leadership.   

We hope to resume our in-person event next year on World AIDS Day. This tradition bestows the title of Everyday Hero to humanitarians in our Valley leading the way to help people thrive with HIV, and to help prevent new infections.  

DAP In The News  

NBC Desert Living Now 

I spoke with Sandie Newton about how we are preparing for the future needs of our patients now.  I described our Hope Begins with Health campaign, our goal to raise the capital to continue offering HIV care, our COVID Clinic, and ever-expanding access to primary healthcare for our community. You can watch it here. 

Channel Q on Radio.com 

I talked with AJ Gibson and Mikalah Gordon about the significance of World AIDS Day, our origins as a volunteer-led organization, and how our HIV response has taught us that to defeat COVID, we have to eliminate stigma and discrimination and act to anchor our response in human rights. You can listen here. 

KESQ Evening News 

Steven Henke talked with Peter Daut about how DAP is echoing our roots, remembering that the solution for this epidemic, like the solution for COVID, is a community led solution. You can watch it here.  

DAP Talks: U=U  

With proper antiretroviral treatment (ART), people with HIV (PWH) cannot transmit the HIV virus to others. Treatment as prevention is a major breakthrough in the fight to stop new infections of HIV, and it offers hope in chipping away at the stigma PWH can carry with them. In this DAP Talks, U=U founder Bruce Richman explains. You can listen here

Answered! Your Most Commonly Asked Quest …

Answered! Your Most Commonly Asked Questions About PrEP for HIV Prevention 

DAP Talks Season 1, Episode 2 

Transcript 

Andy Ansell: 

Hi there. My name is Andy Ansell, and I am the PrEP Program Manager here at Desert AIDS Project. I've been asked to talk to you today regarding PrEP and to answer some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to PrEP. First let me just talk about what PrEP is.  

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and is the name of an HIV prevention intervention. We're trying to prevent somebody from acquiring HIV, pre-exposure. So before they've even been exposed to HIV, we want them to be protected against it. We do that by prescribing an individual medication, and they take one pill once a day to prevent HIV infection. A commonly asked question is, how does it work? The medications that we've prescribed for PrEP are called antiretroviral medication. They prevent HIV from replicating. So, they interrupt HIV in its replication process and thereforeHIV can't replicate. It can't cause an HIV infection.  

So that's basically how PrEP works. Another commonly asked question is, how well does it work? In other words, how well does it protect against HIV? Here at DAP, we have endorsed a 99.9% effective rating for PrEP as it pertains to preventing HIV infection. Prior to PrEP, the only tool that we had to give people to prevent HIV infection were condoms. Condoms are still a great tool for preventing HIV infection. However, if you compare those two interventions side by side, overall for effectiveness, condoms, when used consistently come in at about 90% effective and PrEP use consistently comes in at 99.9% effective. Another commonly asked question pertaining to PrEP is, how much does it cost? Well, that's a very difficult question to answer just outright for everyone.  
 
PrEP Navigators help people understand how much PrEP will cost. Our goal for anybody who comes to DAP for PrEP navigation services is to get them PrEP for no cost or as little cost as possible. And it really depends on a few things. It depends on what type of healthcare coverage an individual has, and it depends on the income level and type that an individual has. There are number of supportive programs out there that will help pay the cost of PrEP and for the medical care needed for somebody on PrEPHere at DAP, 98% of the time, we're able to dispense PrEP, at least the medication, at no cost and perhaps just a slight cost for the actual medical care needed.  
 
Another commonly question is, how do I get it? You start out getting an appointment with a medical provider, either through your primary care provider or your PCP, or here at DAP through our sexual health clinic. We provide all the medical care necessary here onsite 

An initial PrEP appointment at DAP without any type of assistance is a $125. And what is covered in that is the doctor's visit, meeting with the clinician, all the required lab tests that are necessary in order to get PrEP, and the prescription itselfall of that is included in the $125. For anybody who goes on PrEP at DAPour medical protocol is that you have a medical appointment once every three months with routine lab tests.  
 
A routine follow-up appointment every three months is $25, unless you qualify for certain assistance programs 

For many patients at DAP, we can help them sign up for programs that help them access PrEP for free. If you want to get more information, or if you want to schedule an appointment to speak with a PrEP Navigator who can go over all of this information for you, visit our website at daphealth.org. You can click to make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable PrEP Navigators here on site. We're always here and happy to answer any questions that you might have. So please reach out to us. We're happy to help. Thanks. Take care and stay safe. 

DAP Sexual Health Clinic

1695 N. Sunrise Way Palm Springs, CA 92262

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Hours: Monday - Friday 8am - 4:30pm ( Closed for lunch from 12 - 1pm )

Phone: 760-992-0492

To reach our after-hours answering service, please call (760) 323-2118.

Finding Strength in Stories of Others

Finding Strength in Stories of Others

Weekend Wrap Message – Saturday, November 7, 2020, from David Brinkman, Desert AIDS Project CEO 

With #MyPrideStory, DAP Joins Apple Podcast

Going virtual for Pride this year is best for the public health, but it also means many LGBTQ+ people are losing an important annual tradition for self-affirmation, publicly celebrating a holiday created to champion LGBTQ+ self-acceptance, social progress and history. We can still enjoy and share stories of hope and resilience, keeping the spirit of Pride alive this year for ourselves and others. I invite you use the hashtag #MyPrideStory and share on social media about your first Pride experience, and how it made you feel.  I started by sharing my personal story of my first Pride celebration, and it brought back a lot of other special memories that remind me of why I am so committed to this work.  You can listen to my podcast with Steven Henke here

This is the first DAP Talks to be hosted on Apple Podcast and available on RSS feed. We will continue trying to reach at-risk populations with health information and access to care in a manner that works for them, and Apple is the world's largest platform for podcast discovery and listening.

Revivals Turns 25

COVID threatens to fragment communities everywhere, but Revivals Stores is safely bringing people together, all these years after it started on Vela Rd. near the airport in 1995. As it celebrates 25 years in business this month, Revivals keeps customers, volunteers, and donors coming back, even during this health crisis. It is major funding source for DAP Health, but its importance to our Valley goes far beyond that.

For 180 volunteers who provide their time and talent, we hear moving stories about their pride in giving back, their sense of community, and of seeking stability during COVID.

By adding safety practices and modifications in all three Revivals Stores early in the crisis, it has been able to continue serving this community. You can read more here.

With #MyPrideStory, DAP Talks Joins Appl …

With #MyPrideStory, DAP Talks Joins Apple Podcasts

(Palm Springs, CA) November 4, 2020 -- DAP Health is calling on everyone to share their personal Pride story on social media with the hashtag #MyPrideStory, in a move to harness the power of life-affirming stories as 2020 celebrations go virtual. DAP CEO David Brinkman shared his personal Pride story in a first-ever DAP Talks on Apple Podcasts. Also available on RSS feed, this format change will allow DAP Health to reach the largest audience possible. Click here to listen to David’s DAP Talks on Apple Podcasts or RSS feed

“Reaching more people who need us by using the platforms they prefer is helping us ease LGBTQ+ isolation caused by COVID,” says David Brinkman, CEO. “DAP Talks on Apple Podcasts will engage listeners in their own health and well-being on the world's largest platform for podcast discovery and listening.”

Going virtual for Pride this year is best for the public health, but it also means many LGBTQ+ people are losing an important annual tradition for self-affirmation, publicly celebrating a holiday created to champion LGBTQ+ self-acceptance, social progress and history.

“We can still enjoy and share stories of hope and resilience, keeping the spirit of Pride alive this year for ourselves and others,” Brinkman said. “I started by sharing my personal story of my first Pride celebration, and it brought back a lot of other special memories that remind me of why I am so committed to this work.”

Improving LGBTQ+ Self-Acceptance

For LGBTQ+ people, COVID has increased depression and anxiety in a population already disproportionately suffering compared to heterosexuals (NAMI). This year they cannot go to a Pride parade or festival, but they still need affirmation and connection. Using digital tools, DAP Health wants to help everyone to champion LGBTQ+ self-acceptance, social progress, and history.

According to The TREVOR Project, as a result of family rejection, discrimination, criminalization and a host of other factors, LGBTQ+ youth represent as much as 40% of the homeless youth population. Of that population, studies indicate that as many as 60% are likely to attempt suicide.

About DAP Health

DAP Health (DAP) is a humanitarian healthcare organization in Palm Springs, CA offering a combination of medical, dental, counseling, social services, support groups, alternative therapies, in-house pharmacy and lab, and other health and wellness services. DAP’s sexual health clinic, The DOCK, offers STI testing and treatment, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), and HIV and HCV testing. DAP’s Get Tested Coachella Valley campaign, the nation’s first region-wide free HIV testing and access to care initiative, was recognized by the White House for helping to bring about an AIDS-free future. DAP has earned a “Four Star” rating from Charity Navigator for the twelfth consecutive year – landing DAP in the top 6% of nonprofits rated. The distinction recognizes that we exceed industry standards in terms of our financial health, accountability, and transparency.

Visit www.desertaidsproject.org to learn more.

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DAP Talks: My Pride Story with DAP CEO D …

DAP Talks

Welcome to DAP Talks, our weekly podcast program featuring all things DAP Health. Tune in to hear from our clinicians, public health team, and DAP leadership.

DAP Talks Season 1, Episode 1 #MyPrideStory with DAP CEO David Brinkman 

Transcript

Steven Henke:
We're talking with David Brinkman. David is the CEO of Desert AIDS Project located in Palm Springs, California. DAP Health is a humanitarian healthcare organization that has been maximizing human potential for 36 years and playing a larger role in LGBTQ+ health equality.

LGBTQ+ Pride in Palm Springs happens each November and like its counterparts in other cities around the world, the celebration is an important self-affirmation for LGBTQ+ individuals in the sense of dignity, and value. It also reminds our community of the important equity work that remains to be accomplished.

You know, we normally gather for a festival and a parade, meeting friends and listening to each other's stories of hope and resilience, but COVID has taken this year's event in a more virtual direction. And we've wondered what the absence of affirming storytelling might be having in our LGBTQ+ community.

So, we thought we would share one story and invite listeners to share theirs, to keep the conversation going. After this conversation use the hashtag #MyPrideStory and share yours on social media to inspire someone who needs to hear it.

David, thanks for agreeing to share your personal story and this special PrideCast edition of DAP Talks. Would you like to begin the conversation with your preferred pronouns?

David Brinkman:
Sure. Thank you, Steven. My pronouns are he, him, his.

Steven Henke: Thank you. So this is Palm Springs Pride's 34th year. It started in 1986. Can you remember your first pride celebration and how it made you feel?

David Brinkman:
My first pride celebration was in Portland, Oregon. When I left the Midwest and moved out to the West coast for an undergrad, the college I went to was full of activists. And you had a great LGBT student organization and we celebrated Pride throughout campus each year. I had never been in an environment that embraced the LGBT community that's celebrated dry. And for me it was almost like being on another planet. I just can't explain how freeing and joyful it felt to be in a community finally that embraced me.

Steven Henke:
We know what LGBTQ+ people have always been a major part of the Coachella Valley, and they've always rolled up their sleeves during tough times to help the greater good. What have you seen from the community during COVID that's made you feel especially proud of the LGBTQ+ community?

David Brinkman:
The Coachella Valley has come together to support efforts to care for all people, especially the most marginalized members of our community during COVID. I have seen this come through with countless donations from donors; with countless hours of time through volunteers; and with the extremely hard work of our staff. It’s been a beautiful thing. This year, we anticipated caring for 7,000 members of our community, and we have added another 4,000 on top of that already this year. And it's because of the support of this incredible community and caring about others.

Steven Henke:
That's amazing. You know, we talk a lot about the power of storytelling and how someone sharing their authentic self can empower others. Can you tell us a little bit about what your experience was growing up?

David Brinkman:
I grew up in a rural part of the United States, where the values were values that were portrayed on the Beaver Cleaver show from the 1950s. And it really did not embrace the LGBTQ+ movement at all. I can remember in high school, one of my girlfriends’ fathers was a gay man and, he and his lover lived in another part of the country, and she lived with her mom and just knowing that there was another gay man out there and that he was having a fulfilled life with a partner, gave me endless opportunity to daydream about what life could be like as an adult.

But short of that experience, my growing up was very isolated and filled with fears and stories that I created about what it was going to be like as an LGBTQ+ adult. I knew one thing, and that was as soon as I could, I needed to get out of my small town and find my community.

Steven Henke:
And you had an interesting first job after college. Tell me about that and what that experience taught you.

David Brinkman:
So my first job after college was that of a condom fairy. And it was just an extraordinary experience. It was at Cascades Project in Portland, Oregon. And my job was to go to all the parks that gay men were meeting at to connect in Portland, the gay bars, and the one bath house in town—wearing a fanny pack filled with condoms and lubes. It was the early 1990s and we didn't have good HIV medications then. And my role was to educate people about the importance of condom use, encourage people to use condoms. I used my youth and I used my personality to engage people who otherwise were wondering what I was doing, showing up next to them as they were having a beer and engaging them as a health educator. It taught me an awful lot that I still apply in my work at DAP Health today.

Steven Henke:
So, you know, I think when, uh, when I was growing up, I was always looking for examples and I don't think I really knew what was going to happen in my life. But what did your life experience, how did it guide you to the work you're doing today? And I guess what I'm wondering about for someone who's listening to this is how far into your own coming out story were you before you could visualize the impact you wanted to make in the world?

David Brinkman:
The work I do today is really based on the values that my mother and father gave me as a young person. They were always stressing the importance of giving back. We didn't use the word ‘privilege’ then, but my parents really recognized how fortunate we were to be living in the United States, having access to education, my parents having good and stable jobs.

And my mom always said to me, “It doesn't really matter how much you earn in life; that's not what's important,” she said. “What is important is your ability to give back to others who do not have … what you have.”

I always knew that giving back equated to happiness and fulfillment, and that I would choose a career path that was aligned with that. I didn't know that I would work in the LGBTQ+ community, or in the HIV community. That all unfolded as I got a little bit older and HIV, um, became a global pandemic and then the LGBTQ+ human rights movement spilled out of it.

Steven Henke:
So talking about human rights, we're in a COVID pandemic and I think equality and equity is on the top of everyone's mind right now. Health equality means everyone having the same opportunities, but health equity means everyone having the opportunity to be as healthy as they can be according to each individual's needs. Can you share about how far we've come in addressing the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community at DAP? And can you share about what ignoring those needs has caused in other communities that you see around us?

David Brinkman:
I think everybody can remember a time when they went to a doctor's office and this person with a lot of power in our culture was not culturally competent to serve you as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And in fact, chances are, if you had an experience like mine, it was a very fearful power dynamic for you.

And you certainly, at least I certainly wasn't, going to share my status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in that office. And for that, that is a really, uh, sterile experience of feeling like other and dab. It has done such a beautiful job because it was created by the LGBT community to become culturally competent, particularly in serving gay and bisexual men and his time to his past of the transgender community we have work to do in our lesbian sisters. As we all know, the lesbian community was the community that saved gay men who were dying of HIV. They were the people who were feeding us and caring for us in the eighties. But as somebody who experienced that scenario, I described, I can only assume that other communities who live on the margin who do not have cultural competence in their healthcare provider, feel like the other and are suffering their physical health and mental health is suffering because of it. Um, and DAP has such an opportunity to pay that forward. Yeah,

Steven Henke:
We sometimes need to look back to lean forward when you consider DAP’s and the LGBTQ+ community's history. How do you see the organization leaning forward to play a role in health justice for other underserved communities?

David Brinkman:
I always say to members of our community, if you survive the AIDS crisis and you made it through the LGBTQ+ human rights movement, you have your finger on the pulse of very recent human rights work and healthcare justice work. And that needs to be paid forward immediately in this world.

There are so many people who are suffering in our world today who could benefit from the lessons that we learned in the last several decades of our lives, as well what we learn today. The privilege that we have gained, it needs to be paid forward.

Steven Henke:
So, a parting pride thought. This is why we wanted to have this conversation. You know, there's people listening to this who may be at a different place with struggling to express their authentic selves. If they're listening to this, instead of being able to go to a pride parade or a pride festival, what would you want them to know?

David Brinkman:
Number one; I know exactly what it feels like. I grew up in a small Midwestern, rural community where it was not safe to be myself. Number two; find somebody that you love and trust to come out to. As soon as you start that process of being your authentic self, you will find the doors starting to open for you.

You will find a sense of self-worth and sense of love that you don't even know exists in the closet of the LGBTQ+ community. Start that process where you can be your authentic self. Start it slowly and safely, and watch the world unfold for you. Thank you.

Steven Henke:

We've been talking to David Brickman, the CEO of Desert AIDS Project. Do you want to learn more about the vital work being done at Desert AIDS Project? You can go to desertaidsproject.org and explore all of the social media spaces around this vital organization in greater Palm Springs. Happy Pride everybody.

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