Champions of Change: A Celebration of Black Women Changemakers in HIV
Dr June Gipson, The Changemaker
A conversation with Dr June Gipson, CEO of My Brother’s Keeper, an organization dedicated to reducing health disparities nationwide
When the going gets tough, Dr June Gipson gets going to create positive change. “I’m the poster child of coming out on top of a challenge,” says Dr Gipson, Chief Executive Officer at My Brother’s Keeper, Inc.,* a Mississippi-based nonprofit with a history of reducing health disparities throughout the United States. She also sits on the AIDS United board of trustees, but long before she held any of those high-ranking titles, “I wanted to be President,” she says. “I just knew I wanted to be in leadership.”
In the early 2000s, she took a position at Jackson State University, where she worked on a CDC-funded program helping strengthen HIV prevention organizations. “This was my entry into the LGBTQ community,” she explains. “I learned the world of Black gay men, the most wonderful group of people I had ever encountered.” But with those personal connections came consistent heartbreak. “In just three years, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve lost so many people.’ Those deaths were the thing that woke me up to how bad it was. And that something had to change.”
Dr Gipson chose to be that change, first creating and refining curricula for other HIV/AIDS organizations across the country, helping them lead with best practices, research, and knowledge to better serve their communities. She also went to work securing resources for necessary initiatives and programming, including at one point helping save My Brother’s Keeper from dissolution. She’s also committed to calling out inequality in the HIV landscape. “I’m a pretty blunt person,” she says. When the HIV epidemic began ravaging the Black community, “I remember telling a white gay man at the health department, ‘This is not just your disease anymore. This is what’s happening to us right now, and you’re going to have to put the money where it needs to go.’” Says Dr Gipson, “I will fight for what needs to happen.”
“I will fight for what needs to happen.”
That said, it’s a tough fight: “This work is mentally, physically, and emotionally quite draining,” she says. But when asked what she does to de-stress, “I start pondering what else I can do to make things better,” she says. “When it gets heavy, I need to solve things. If I just keep changing things here, there, things will get better.” Armed with that philosophy, she launches one innovative program after another at My Brother’s Keeper, like recently putting state-of-the-art HIV testing kiosks in women’s shelters. “They’ve had trauma and don’t want to go to clinics, so we’re turning domestic violence shelters into telehealth centers.” While she’s aware of her limitations, she refuses to limit herself. “I didn’t break the system, so it’s going to be really hard for me to fix it, but I can create change,” says Dr Gipson.
*This organization is a Gilead grant recipient.