Earlier this month, Governor Roy Cooper’s Office of Public Engagement teamed up with 2BeatHIV, the Office of the First Lady of North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, and the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease in order to host a World AIDS Day Summit titled, “NC Beyond HIV,” at the North Carolina Executive Mansion.

Together, they brought focus to promoting health equity by bringing together a group of artists, advocates, entrepreneurs, researchers, practitioners, and those that live with JIV. With over 50 summit attendees, the event was both successful and impactful!

With were joined by 2BeatHIV founder, Dr. Allison and Kimberly Knight who served as members of the planning team who started a conversation that will continue for years to come!

Tell us about the 2018 World AIDS Day Summit that took place earlier this month.

Allison: For the first time in history, Governor Roy Cooper’s Office of Public Engagement hosted a summit entitled, “NC Beyond HIV” for World AIDS Day. The event was co-organized by a cross-section of leaders in public office, community advocates, entrepreneurs and researchers, including 2BeatHIV, the Office of the First Lady of North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, and the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease. The goal of the event was to start the conversation about ways we could leverage the resources available in North Carolina to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Kimberly: The 2018 World AIDS Day Summit: NC Beyond HIV was a historic event for the state of North Carolina and for Governor Roy Cooper’s Office of Public Engagement. Dr. Allison Mathews and I served as members of the planning team and our goal is to continue the conversation from the summit into the new year.

What inspired you two to take action and why is it important to you?

Allison: I have dedicated my life to fighting social inequality and stigma, in whatever form it takes. I also believe in the power of people to solve problems plaguing their communities. Historically, Black and Latinx communities have dealt with a legacy of exploitation in scientific research. So in 2015, I started 2BeatHIV, which is a nonprofit organization that uses crowdsourcing contests as a bottom-up approach to improve HIV clinical research engagement and get the community involved in shaping the future of HIV cure research. Our mission is to create a state where someone’s status in society does not determine their health outcomes. HIV is a symptom of a larger problem with stigma and access to resources for people living in the margins of society. We want to change that.

Kimberly: My personal journey of becoming a widow at age 31 after losing my husband to complications of AIDS which was published in the January/February 2014 issue of Sheen Magazine was the beginning of my interest in HIV awareness. Here we are 6 years later and my focus has been to engage marginalized communities of people of color living with or affected by HIV. I met Dr. Allison Mathews in December 2015 at 2BeatHIV’s first community engagement event and from that month forward we have worked consistently to increase awareness and involve community members in HIV cure research.

How do you hope this mission will impact the community?

Allison: The World AIDS Day Summit was a unique opportunity for 2BeatHIV to collaboratively design a program that integrated HIV prevention and treatment practitioners, community advocates, people living with HIV, HIV cure researchers, artists, and entrepreneurs. The summit was a launching pad for us to find innovative ways to improve access to care for the residents of North Carolina. Many people, especially those living in rural areas, have limited access to transportation to visit the doctor and cannot afford medications. We are hoping to find solutions to these problems by collaborating with stakeholders from across the state. In particular, my co-founders, Alexandria Anderson, Marcus Hawley, and I launched an online platform, Digital LinCS, to streamline the process of helping uninsured people to get access to programs that help them pay for expensive HIV prevention and treatment medications. 

Kimberly: Our goal following the World AIDS Day Summit is to not only continue the conversation but to plant roots in areas where HIV awareness, community engagement, and access to healthcare are minimal. This is an opportunity for progressive engagement with public offices, government agencies, community members, and clinical researchers to see North Carolina beyond HIV. In the coming year, it is imperative that we move forward with social change. Dr. Allison Mathews, Alexandria Anderson, and Marcus Hawley are the co-founders of Digital LinCS and it was created with the intent to be the social change needed in HIV prevention and treatment.

How will you all celebrate HIV Cure Research Day?

Allison: This is the 3rd annual celebration of HIV Cure Research Day. I was honored to meet Kimberly on December 14, 2015, which marked the anniversary of 2BeatHIV’s first community event. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to host fun and engaging events to raise awareness about HIV, including a fashion show called “Red is the New Black” with actress and HIV advocate, Sheryl Lee Ralph. This year, we are hosting a community event with featured speaker, Dr. Joseph Eron, who is the Vice Chair of the NIH AIDS Clinical Trials Group and Professor of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s been amazing to see the level of enthusiasm and support from clinical scientists from the HIV Cure Center at UNC Chapel Hill and the National Institutes of Health.

Kimberly: The 3rd annual celebration of HIV Cure Research Day was phenomenal. Allison and I honored community members that have supported 2BeatHIV, we shared intriguing facts about HIV cure research and hosted vendors from UNC-Rope Team, 2BeatHIV, and Digital LinCS. Dr. Joseph Eron was our esteemed guest speaker with an inspiring message about the forward-thinking methods of HIV cure research and how the community can get involved.

How can our readers get involved?

Allison: 2BeatHIV is a place where people can learn more about HIV cure research, submit their ideas on how to improve health-related problems in their communities and support our community efforts. We are currently fundraising to support future community engagement programming to raise awareness about HIV clinical research. Additionally, Digital LinCS is developing partnerships with clinics and community-based organizations to help uninsured and underinsured people access HIV prevention and treatment medications and affordable healthcare. If you or an organization you know are interested in using Digital LinCS, please reach out to us.

For more on The 2BeatHIV Project, click here!

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For more on Digital LinCS, click here!

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All images provided by Kimberly Knight