Six Charlotteans, including four who work for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), are among this year’s POZ 100, a list of HIV/AIDS advocates published annually by POZ, a magazine that chronicles the lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS.
POZ, short for “HIV positive,” debuted the list in 2010. Past honorees have included celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John as well as dozens of unsung heroes who work quietly in their communities. This year’s focus is on HIV/AIDS leaders in the South. Charlotte honorees are:
▪ The Rev. Debbie Warren, an ordained Baptist minister, was a one-woman agency when she founded RAIN in 1992, with the goal of bringing together faith communities and people of good will to provide practical, emotional and spiritual support for people living with HIV disease. As executive director, Warren has guided the agency to adopt new models of care and form new partnerships as treatments improved and life expectancy grew. Through popular fundraisers such as AIDS Walk Charlotte and Gay Bingo, RAIN sustains awareness about HIV and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
▪ Chelsea Gulden White, director of programs for RAIN, created the Empowering Positive Youth program for teens and young adults, and worked with local doctors to create PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a program to ensure that low-income clients have access to medicines that can prevent them from becoming HIV positive.
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▪ Jaysen Foreman-McMaster works at RAIN as peer navigator in the Empowering Positive Youth program, assisting HIV-positive young people who are dealing with trauma, homelessness and stigma. He also advises HIV-positive clients on how to obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
▪ Roberto Olmo works for RAIN as a peer navigator in the Empowering Positive Youth program, providing psycho-social support for youth living with HIV. He also helps people get access to PrEP if they are at risk for contracting HIV.
▪ J. Wesley Thompson, a physician assistant and medical director/co-owner of Ballantyne Family Medicine. He has been in practice for almost 30 years, providing care to the HIV/AIDS population.
▪ Darrin Johnson is project director for the Online Safe Space Initiative, a federally-funded research study at UNC Charlotte, and coordinator for the PowerHouse Project, a drop-in center for young people of color living with or at risk for HIV.