If there is one thing Gerald Garth wants you to walk away with, it is that you can use whatever gifts and talents you were born with to fight HIV.
An accounting assistant-turned-programs specialist for the Black AIDS Institute's training and capacity-building arm, Garth—who, in addition to being an aspiring actor, one day hopes to work as a director of communications—uses his natural gift for storytelling to help inspire more HIV crusaders to take up the cause.
"HIV is disproportionately affecting my community," the 32-year-old Baton Rouge, La., native explains of his move to Los Angeles in 2013 to pursue his acting and to work for the Institute. "I never wanted to be a physician; that's not my thing. But I know how important it is that people understand that addressing the needs of our communities is a community effort. I studied English; that's my thing," he explains. "I can talk, I can write, I can organize, I can inspire. The most cutting-edge treatments or strategies mean nothing if individuals who use them or who would benefit know nothing of them, or can't speak about them, or don't understand them—that's where I come in."
Garth is particularly excited about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and cultural-competency education. "I'm a strong proponent of PrEP, but I know there is a great deal of opportunity surrounding its marketing, community engagement and education," he says. "Also, I really want to see more cultural sensitivity and competent education concerning HIV among fraternities, sororities, houses of faith and a number of traditional Black institutions, especially as it relates to some of the most underrepresented individuals. The two strongest pillars of the Black community have been the church and the family. I would love to see these institutions continue to engage, and those that have not, start."
A programs specialist since May, Garth has worked in all aspects of the Institute's media and communications work, including assisting in the creation of its national newsletter and contributing to digital, Web and print publications. He also works with its national Black Treatment Advocates Network, facilitating trainings, events and other programs. After completing a yearlong fellowship with the African American HIV University's (AAHU) Science and Treatment College, Garth has also been asked to manage the Institute's 2015 AAHU cohort.
The yoga enthusiast also encourages Black folks to live their best-possible lives in a broader sense.
In addition to his communications work with the Institute, Garth is a writer and editor, penning the column "Positive," a section that highlights Black women's quest for health and wellness, for Heart & Soul magazine. He is also deputy editor of The Rouge Collection, a lifestyle publication for young urban professionals, heading the wellness division, which covers everything from public health to relationships and inspiration. In addition, Garth is the West Coast correspondent for Sheen magazine, a Black women's health-and-beauty publication, and a contributor to Message, a quarterly Los Angeles-based lifestyle magazine for Black gay men. He also freelances for a local public relations firm.
"While I do not have a traditional journey into HIV/AIDS work, I want individuals to feel empowered to loan their voices, in whatever capacity, and to remind them they do not have to be a provider or tester or even living with HIV to be a mouthpiece for our communities," he says. "I will always be a writer and I will always be a people person. And when I become that big silver screen star, I will continue to be a champion for HIV and the Black AIDS Institute."
Tomika Anderson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Essence, POZ, Real Health and Ebony magazines, among others.