Us Helping Us, People Into Living Inc., will soon mark 20 years of working to prevent HIV infections among black gay and bisexual men, and caring for those who are infected. An anniversary banquet on Nov. 21 marks the day the organization incorporated in 1985.
''We started out because there was so much stigma and fear associated with HIV/AIDS,'' says Ron Simmons, UHU's current CEO and part of the organization since the early 1990s. He recalls UHU's birth at a legendary D.C. nightspot.
''So many black, HIV-positive men had nowhere to turn -- particularly those who wanted a sense of hope. In 1985, your doctor told you that you had AIDS and you're going to be dead in eight months, there's nothing you can do. We were the organization telling people they could live with this disease. Rainey Cheeks started it at The Clubhouse. Initially, it was just trying to do little things like fundraisers to help pay people's rent. This was years before Obama. Racism was quite real. Black gay men received support from each other.''
In keeping with the banquet's theme, ''The Past, Present & Future,'' Cheeks will reflect on the past; Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, STD and TB Prevention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will discuss the present; and Simmons will tackle the future.
But while most anniversaries are cause for celebration, Simmons emphasizes that the nature of UHU's work calls for a more thoughtful tone.
''It's a 20-year anniversary commemoration,'' says Simmons. ''Too may people have died for us to be celebrating.''
UHU's 20th Year Commemorative Reception and Banquet begins at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 21, at the Almas Temple Ballroom, 1315 K St. NW. For tickets, $125, or more information, call 202-446-1100. For more about UHU, visit www.uhupil.org.