By Staff, November 2017 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2017 here.

In 2014, Jeremy Bright was hired by the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS as its testing and men’s program manager tasked with overseeing the center’s HIV testing program and building a community outreach program.

His mission: recruit volunteers to distribute condoms in bars. His resources: three remaining volunteers from the previous project and one staff member who was interested in being involved. The result: IGNITE Your Status was born (fing out more in "Igniting the Conversation" here.)

According to Bright, IGNITE started with a conversation in the lobby of Southwest Center with four passionate members of the community who answered the question, “What do you want this project to do?”

This laid the foundation for the new volunteer-led outreach group.

“Our mission [is] to normalize the conversations around safer sex and HIV in the Phoenix LGBTQ Community,” Bright said. “We still needed to hand out condoms – someone was giving us money to do that – but the founding [IGNITE] crew members felt we could do more and wanted to spark a dialog about HIV in a really fun and community-centric way while doing it. Right out of the gate, we were striving to do more.”

Three years later, IGNITE has a planning council, a dedicated crew of nearly 70 volunteers and some much more specific goals.

“We have some hard numbers we measure … But some of the work we do around stigma, normalizing conversations around HIV and addressing feelings of isolation faced by people living with HIV are often softer measurements,” Bright explained. “Now that we have a stronger footing and recurring events in the community, we’re working toward formalizing longer-term measurements of actual effectiveness against the HIV epidemic.”

Since IGNITE’s inception, Bright reports that it’s grown from distributing 20,000 condoms a year to more than 180,000 condoms. Southwest Center has also seen an increase in testing from 150 people a month to over 550 people a month.

“Those are huge increases and definitely reflect the impact of the work from our amazing crew members and also our community’s willingness to embrace the work we’re doing,” Bright said.

Bright’s role has also evolved with the successes IGNITE has experienced. Today, he’s the center’s director of marketing and community outreach, and he now splits his time between community outreach (75 percent) and marketing for the center (25 percent), based on funding allocations.

“Those are huge increases and definitely reflect the impact of the work from our amazing crew members and also our community’s willingness to embrace the work we’re doing,” Bright said.

Bright’s role has also evolved with the successes IGNITE has experienced. Today, he’s the center’s director of marketing and community outreach, and he now splits his time between community outreach (75 percent) and marketing for the center (25 percent), based on funding.

“I think everyone’s role in a nonprofit is ever-evolving … HIV testing and treatment methods change quickly and new funding comes in that can cause you to shift how you work. It keeps things fluid and interesting. The work continually evolves – but the common theme is to stay flexible, adapt, and keep a strong focus on the mission.

While you won’t catch Bright in the spotlight or poised as the face of IGNITE (unless he’s in drag as his alter ego, Rainbow Bright, raising money for a good cause), he has humbly asserted that he’s motivated by work that feels mission-focused and meaningful, and that he feels good about what he’s doing right now. Which is, as he puts it, a perfect storm, one where his professional experiences were finally aligned with his passions, that had been brewing for many years.

“When I was living in Richmond, Va., I was 21 and had a boyfriend who dumped me hard,” Bright recalled. “I went to a friend’s house to cry it out and, while sitting on his patio, he told me, ‘at least you don’t have to get out there and date while you’re HIV-Positive.’”

This was the first person to ever disclose their status to Bright.

“What was even more mind-blowing, was his partner was negative,” he continued. “It was the '90s … I was just beginning to try to figure this world out, and that really blew my mind at the time. However, while watching them hold each other and smile, they showed me an amazing side of love that inspired me to get more involved to help people like these friends.”

Bright I knew some people who said they volunteered at an AIDS organization downtown, so one day he just walked in and said he wanted to help. And he’s been involved in some way around the cause ever since.

“There are amazing HIV organizations in Phoenix, but there are a number of reasons why a person who is living with, or at risk for, HIV may not feel comfortable walking into any of these organizations on their own,” he said. “IGNITE has the opportunity to meet people where they’re at and bring the “person-next-door” approach to normalize those conversations and get people more engaged in their sexual health – without it feeling like a lecture, a chore or too clinical. In a nutshell – I feel we aim to step outside of the agencies, into the community, to let people know it’s OK to know your status and IGNITE it – whatever it is.”

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