In memoriam: Janet Cleveland and Dawn Smith

The board and staff of AIDS United were devastated to learn of two deaths in recent weeks. Janet Cleveland and Dawn Smith were two federal partners who worked in the Division of HIV Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Cleveland was the deputy director for the division and Smith was an epidemiology and medical officer. Their deaths were not connected. 

Jesse Milan Jr., AIDS United’s president and CEO, remembered Cleveland and Smith fondly. “Janet and Dawn were trailblazers as Black women in federal leadership roles in the fight against HIV. So much of the CDC’s HIV prevention work was either guided or influenced by Janet: communication, capacity building building, partnership, grant reviews, research, epidemiology and the list goes on and on. And Dawn’s contributions to the scientific understanding of HIV and its prevention are vast. She was an early voice advocating for PrEP.”

PrEP, or preexposure prophylaxis, is medicine that a person can take that prevents HIV.

AIDS United honored Cleveland in 2021 at its 10th anniversary celebration. In presenting the award, Milan shared that someone from the surgeon general’s office told him 25 years ago, “Oh, you need to know Janet Cleveland!” 

“And boy am I glad I did get to know Janet,” Milan said. Today, Milan added, “She was a compassionate and brilliant strategist and always on our side from inside the CDC. She was truly beloved.” 

Eugene McCray is chair of AIDS United’s board of trustees. Before his retirement, McCray was director of the Division of HIV Prevention at the CDC and worked with both Cleveland and Smith. 

“Janet and Dawn were my colleagues and friends,” McCray said. “Both were powerful advocates who spent decades working to end the HIV epidemic. Because of their hard work, we are closer to that goal. They will be sorely missed. We offer our deepest condolences to their friends, families and colleagues.”