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Champions of Change: A Celebration of Black Women Changemakers in HIV

Raniyah Copeland, The Crusader

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A conversation with Raniyah Copeland, founder of Equity & Impact Solutions and former CEO of the Black AIDS Institute

Raniyah Copeland (formerly Abdus-Samad) is the product of an unapologetically Black environment. “My parents came from a family that traced its roots to runaway slaves.” Raniyah’s parents instilled in her that “we as Black people owed it to future generations to take our freedom.” They gave rise to a freedom fighter. Copeland’s passion for advocating grew while attending UC Berkeley. “I spent as much time in class as I did in administrative offices, advocating for Black student admissions and resources.”

Healthcare disparities always piqued her interest. “In high school, my mom got breast cancer, and I remember her physicians not understanding what it meant to cut her locs. There was a lack of cultural sensitivity." In college, "I remember this white professor framing the Tuskegee Syphilis Study as if it were a medical accomplishment. But learning about HIV in my Black Studies classes was a different experience.”

After college, Raniyah worked at Planned Parenthood. There, she worked alongside colleagues as they gave a positive HIV diagnosis. “When the results were delivered, it was almost as if the patient expected it. He shared that he felt that HIV was inevitable as a young Black gay man.” That reaction made her career goal clear: “I wanted to ignite an upswell of greater community health for my people, specifically those impacted by HIV.” Seeing a job posting for an entry-level coordinator at the Black AIDS Institute (BAI),* “I was like, ‘That’s it.’”

“I wanted to ignite an upswell of greater community health for my people, specifically those impacted by HIV.”

-Raniyah Copeland

There, she committed herself to seeing that HIV did not feel inevitable or like a death sentence for Black people. For over a decade, she worked alongside BAI’s founder, Phill Wilson, before rising to senior leadership, becoming the organization’s first Black woman president and CEO. She built a track record for driving impactful initiatives that helped address the needs of the Black community, like getting HIV curricula integrated into Historically Black Colleges and Universities programs and training and amplifying the voices of Black advocates across the nation. Growth and expansion then became her focus, and she began a remarkably successful chapter for the national, Black-led organization. “I dug in and was able to more than double the organization’s budget, expand national and local programs, and develop critical institutional relationships.”

As the founder of Equity & Impact Solutions, where she currently works, she offers organizations her unique set of technical skills for equity advancement, community engagement, and culturally relevant programming—all pathways to helping end HIV. “I’m deeply inspired by my clients, who I get to co-create a better future with and alongside.” What makes her journey even sweeter: “I have mountains of support. Each day, I feel my parents, family, community, and ancestors with me. I’m blessed I get to dedicate my life to helping Black people live long and healthy lives.”

*This organization is a Gilead grant recipient.

*Viral suppression means the amount of virus in the blood is very low or cannot be measured by a test (<200 c/mL). Viral suppression is the goal of HIV care and treatment.13

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