Dr. Bambi Gaddist
Bambi Gaddist, PhD, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, is one of them.
The label fits, and not just because she
was named a 2008 CNN Hero.
I quickly learned why.
For example, her
agency has the only mobile outreach van in the state.
"Still have the van," she
tells me over the phone.
"As a matter of fact, we're out today, in a rural community, in three rural counties that have little or no access to testing."
A native of Vineland, New Jersey, Dr. Gaddist attended Tuskegee University, and, after that, Indiana State University, where she studied reproductive health.
Then, in the seventies, she
spent a lot of time at the Kinsey Institute
majored in physical education and health, but she
has always pursued adolescent pregnancies, the topic of her
"Then I got sucked into HIV," she
"I met this hairdresser, Diana, who was doing this [kind of] work in her
I was a doctoral student.
We worked together for fifteen years.
bases the HIV/AIDS
does today on the work she
engaged in back in the eighties, at the beginning of the epidemic.
is known as "the AIDS Lady.
When I mention it to her
laughs and mentions that little children call her
story is one of AIDS advocacy as an intrinsic part of the bigger story of AIDS seen through a Southern lens.
Dr. Gaddist sits on the board of the Southern AIDS Coalition.
A manifestation of SAC's body of work is the Southern AIDS Living Quilt.
The idea of the Quilt was to address and eliminate AIDS stigma, and bring attention to the Southern epidemic through video testimonials of men and women living with the virus, and also of activists (like Gaddist) and health professionals fighting the epidemic.
The Southern AIDS Living Quilt celebrates living with the virus.
Its message is: know your status; get tested; and make HIV testing an integral part of the annual medical exam.
still believes in the Quilt's message.
also believes that education is imperative.
She stays informed and, in turn, informs her staff, about the latest legislative rules and the Affordable Care Act, and how they will impact her work as an activist, and how they are going to impact AIDS in the South.
There are a variety of issues that define AIDS in the South.
A lack of interest and/or knowledge to treat HIV/AIDS
, related stigma, (lack of) AIDS education and prevention, anonymity, poverty, and the reaction of Southern states to the new healthcare law are only a few of them.
The majority of Southern states are defined as "default," meaning they will not accept any medical expenditure money.
"Like my state, they have no intention of taking that money," Dr. Gaddist
"My statement to them is 'you should call me,'" Gaddist
The reality is that there are few places individuals diagnosed with HIV can go to in the South.
They are forced to travel to a large city where they can find physicians specialized in treating HIV/AIDS and where they cannot be recognized.
A study done by Janssen Pharmaceuticals found that African-American physicians report feeling uncomfortable talking about the HIV test with their patients.
"What was so profound to me," Gaddist
comments, "was that, despite the whole pandemic of AIDS, particularly among young men eighteen to twenty-four, black physicians report feeling uncomfortable asking about the test.
Many of them don't even offer it….
t's mind-boggling to me." She
further explains that professional women, in particular, are the most difficult to approach, "because then we get into a conversation of classism," she
says, "and the medical provider fears that if he
insults you, you won't return."
recalls a conversation she
had with a teacher who showed up in her
office, asking for an HIV test, because she
had discovered that her
husband of thirty years was having an affair with another man.
The HIV test came back negative, yet the experience prompted the teacher to reexamine her
attitude and beliefs around her
false sense of security.
Dr. Gaddist presented at a recent Affordable Care Act Community Forum held at Trinity Baptist Church and hosted by Pastor Thurmond Bowens, Jr., MUIC (Men United In Christ), and the Trinity Baptist HIV/AIDS Care Team Ministry. Photo by Lamont Adams.
Dr. Gaddist presented at a recent Affordable Care Act Community Forum held at Trinity Baptist Church and hosted by Pastor Thurmond Bowens, Jr., MUIC (Men United In Christ), and the Trinity Baptist HIV/AIDS Care Team Ministry.
"Most black women will never get married," Gaddist
says, mentioning that she's
been married for most of her
"Look in the Sunday newspaper," she
explains that slaves were not permitted to maintain family structures.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles often placed in her
seems to never get tired.
Despite working in the most stressful of times, her
passion and determination never dwindle.
How does she
"I believe in God," she
"I believe He
places us where He
wants us to be.
There are times when you don't have anybody else but God [to depend on.]" She
also believes that "until it's time for you to leave, you'll always be brought back to that same place.
It's like Groundhog Day.
That's how it's been for me.
The good part is that I'm always grateful that I got put back."
For people like Dr. Gaddist
the biggest challenge is not to keep working, but what to do after giving up the reins to someone else.
"Personally I look forward to turning this organization over to someone, and hope it survives," she
"That would be the true test of what I sought to achieve, that the work will continue.
If it doesn't continue there's something I didn't do or something I should have done better."
doesn't want to leave the impression that there has been no progress in fighting AIDS, in particular, in the South, because, despite all the challenges, progress has been made.
"Not as quickly as we would like," Gaddist
says, "but I don't know any social change that's ever occurred without years of struggle.
For more information on Dr. Bambi Gaddist
, log on to: www.columbiaurbanleague.org.
Link to South Carolina HIV Council