orenzo Lewis is Fighting for a Better, More Equitable World

Lorenzo Lewis, an HIV advocate and public health leader, is making a difference in the lives of other Black queer men in his Georgia community.

Lewis serves as a program manager at THRIVE Support Services, an organization that began in 2015, when three Black gay men living with HIV set out to offer holistic support to other Black gay men living with HIV.

The mission of the organization is to “improve health equity for Black gay men living with HIV through direct support, advocacy and building collective power.”

Lewis is a part of AIDS United’s first-ever cohort of the Fund for Resilience, Equity and Engagement and the Transgender Leadership Initiative Leadership Development Program. These leaders were chosen through AIDS United’s grantee partner organizations as representatives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people and Black gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender-loving men — populations in our communities most disproportionately impacted by HIV.

“My call to action is kindness — kindness to ourselves in thought and kindness to others in speech,” Lewis said. “We cannot effectively fight for a better, more equitable world without affording ourselves kindness.”

We caught up with Lewis to learn more about his story and how he works to mobilize his community to stop HIV together.

How did you get into this field?

There are some instances in life that speak louder than others, and sometimes our purpose is revealed to us more than once. Over 10 years ago, it was made clear to me that my life will be in service to others. I became an advocate because of the health disparities I saw. I became an advocate to do for others what the founders of THRIVE SS through brotherhood did for me, and to combat the feelings of helplessness I felt after experiencing barriers to care. I am committed to improving the lives of people living with HIV through service, with a determination to contribute to the end of the epidemic.

What are some of the barriers that prevent Black GBQ/SGL men from accessing care? How do we start to reduce those barriers?

A lack of health literacy is one of stigma’s strongest enablers. An education about life with HIV has proven to be integral to reducing feelings of isolation, helplessness and even access to care. Without investments into educating clients and the community, stigma will continue to be a barrier to care for individuals and vulnerable demographics in our communities.

What are some of the challenges preventing Black GBQ/SGL men from being in executive leadership roles? What are some of the solutions to addressing those challenges?

The tradition of academic meritocracy has excluded immense Black talent from executive leadership roles. It is patriarchal and communally impeding to suggest that only the most educated of us are worthy to lead in the fight to end the epidemic. However, we generally undervalue talent, passion, intention and the willingness to learn, while perpetuating the very institutional systems used to marginalize us.