Q & A with Ace Robinson, PCAF’s new CEO

How did you initially get involved in the field of HIV? How has your career and/or life experience prepared you for this role?
My entire career shifted when I worked at the Hutch on a project in Senegal when I watched up close and personal how applied misconceptions, misunderstanding, racism, sexism, and queerphobia led
to the loss of HIV support for people who participate in trade sex. With each passing year that I have served in the HIV field, I have watched the epidemic become more and more concentrated in subpopulations unfortunately on the short end of social ills.

What are you most proud of, in terms of previous accomplishments?

In 2013 and 2014, I toiled as the principal architect of the End AIDS Washington State initiative. It was the culmination of all of my personal, vocational, academic, and professional work at that time. In partnership with local, statewide, and national advocates, clinicians, and researchers, we were able to devise a measurable plan to improve access to HIV treatment and prevention with a focus on health equity. We may not have had terms like EHE, U=U, or DEIA yet, but the Community gave us the
language and objectives needed to reduce the impact of HIV. I was proud to be a part of the work that has become a global gold standard in the integration of biomedical science, clinical best practices, and community-centered messaging & education.

Who or what has been the strongest influence on you / your career? How do your personal
experiences inform your work?

A client of mine from Philadelphia in an HIV Adherence Program. She was an immensely powerful young
Black lesbian who was overwhelmed by the intersection of HIV stigma, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Her main objective in life was to simply be loved by the people who she loved. Unfortunately, that became the exception and not the rule. She eventually completed what I called “passive suicide” by not taking her antiretroviral medication for the simple reason that she no longer desired to be in a place. where she did not feel wanted. What happened to her is far too common. So many of the HIV-impacted community face problems that have nothing to do with the T-cell count or viral load. It has to do with their friend count and love load.

What interests you most about PCAF and the work we do?

Pierce County and the surrounding areas have been the recipients of the love that each staffer and volunteer has for their community. And in my abbreviated interactions with PCAF representatives, it is clear that people who come to work for PCAF are really coming to work for their fellow neighbor. It really is rare to see this much compassion and empathy on full display. PCAF stands for community. It is steeped in community. It fights unapologetically for community.

What are you most passionate about/excited about in becoming PCAF’s new leader?

Making the impossible possible. PCAF sits in a geographic region that is not eliminating its highly
impacted populations due to gentrification but is actually increasing its population of historically
unserved people due to regional pressures on housing, food, and job security. It will be exciting to meet
the Community’s needs in real-time and to work hand-in-hand with staff, volunteers, and the Board of
Directors to find an innovative way forward.

What have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and have you found similarities
between the pandemic and the HIV pandemic? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected
HIV prevention and care?

It is not so much what the HIV-impacted community has learned, but what have others learned. For
over 40 years, we have watched HIV disproportionately impact the “have-not’s” over the “have’s.”
The pandemic simply highlighted that for public health officials, elected officials, and the general
community. In March 2020, when I gave my first interview on the probable impact of the novel
coronavirus that had taken its first life in the USA in Washington State, it was simple: this virus will
eventually be firmly situated in BIPOC and socioeconomically challenged communities. I have yet to
see a modality that equitably impacts BIPOC as compared to whites at any level of socioeconomic
level. COVID-19 was no different. It looked more and more like HIV demographically with each
passing day.

What do you think it will take to finally end HIV once and for all?

Money. Let’s be crystal clear. We have all the resources to End the HIV Epidemic right now. What
we don’t have is the necessary funding to equitably engage in a timely and culturally responsive
manner the communities that are most impacted by HIV and associated illnesses.

How do you plan to interact with clients, community members, and community

My plan is to directly engage all stakeholders. All the solutions are known, but they may not be
known to me and/or PCAF staff. It is not my job to just find the resources, advocate for change,
and support programmatic design, but it is my job to listen and listen hard. If we are living up to our
designation as a COMMUNITY-based organization, PCAF will have a larger and more sustained
impact across more populations, communities, and healthcare systems.

Is there anything you like to share about your hobbies or personal interests?

When I’m not striving to dismantle racism, sexism, queerphobia and ableism within the healthcare
sector, you can find me going on long meandering walks (I haven’t been to the gym since the onset of
COVID-19…maybe soon, but not yet), reading too much and striving to write poetry. I haven’t owned
a television since 2007 so I try to keep myself busy outside of the house.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact:

Jill Rose / Development and Communications Director

jrose@pcaf-wa.org / (253) 722-0709