Local HIV/AIDS activist attends White House ceremony

UPDATE: To read about Mark's day at the White House, click here for his blog.

When President Barack Obama officially launches the National HIV/AIDS Strategy from the White House next Tuesday, at least one Tennessean will be cheering him on.

Thanks to years of hard work and networking within the HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention community, Mark Hubbard, chair of the Tennessee Association of People With AIDS, has been asked to attend the president’s announcement, which will feature grassroots activists from around the country.

And he didn’t even see it coming.

“They sent an e-mail, which I almost deleted,” Hubbard said. “At first I thought it was a fraud. Now I’m pretty excited.”

The national strategy has come out of an Obama campaign promise. Soon after taking office, the president responded to a major push from advocacy organizations to get the ball rolling, and a series of town hall meetings, conference calls, websites and more was set up for national input. Hubbard and hundreds of other grassroots activists offered significant feedback, hence their inclusion in the final product’s rollout.

“I have helped to put on a lot of forums over the years, looking at research into cutting-edge topics and treatments, and Greg Millett, who is now a senior policy adviser in the Office of National Aids Policy, recognized that,” Hubbard said. “He always knew about what we were doing here in Tennessee, and was always very helpful.”

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy is a comprehensive, 5-year plan of action to combat the epidemic in the United States. It’s the president’s flagship initiative with regard to HIV/AIDS, and so Hubbard and other activists say they expect much good to come of its implementation.

“It's clear that the President and the Office of National AIDS Policy will use this occasion to emphasize the importance of community involvement in the struggle against HIV/AIDS,” Hubbard said. “As one fellow activist said, ‘to have a group of community advocates who are involved on the front lines invited to be there - is a very big deal.’”

In addition to the president’s event, Hubbard and others also will meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, Office of National AIDS Policy Director Jeffrey Crowley and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh.

“I am proud that Tennessee citizens and organizations like TAPWA helped to make this happen,” Hubbard said. “Further, I am humbled and honored to be one of many community members invited by President Obama to attend a White House reception. I guess we made an impression.”

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