Ron Simmons heads Us Helping Us for 20 years
This month marks Ron Simmons, Ph.D, 20th year as the head of Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc. Us Helping Us began as a self-help support group for black gay men living with AIDS founded in 1985. At that time there was no treatment for HIV/AIDS and Us Helping Us advocated a holistic approach to health maintenance that incorporated the mind, body and spirit. Dr. Simmons, a member of the group, volunteered to be the executive director in the summer of 1992. The Board of Directors changed his title to President/CEO in 2003.
Under his leadership, Us Helping Us grew into the largest AIDS service organization in the metropolitan area specializing in HIV prevention and support services for black gay and same-gender-loving men. Us Helping Us also serves heterosexual men and women, and transgender individuals, providing HIV testing, STD screenings, mental health services, case management, and treatment adherence services.Simmons legacy at Us Helping Us is one of accomplishments: from launching the nation’s first “Down Low Help Line” targeting black heterosexual men who have sex with men; to airing the first radio commercial targeting HIV-positive black gay men; to being the first black gay AIDS organization in the country to purchase a building for its headquarters and service facility.
When asked what he feels is the most important stage in the organization’s history, Simmons says, “The most serious challenge to the survival of Us Helping Us occurred in 1995 when the Board of Directors expanded the mission statement to include prevention services for HIV-negative men. The positive men vehemently objected and voted with their feet. Our support group that normally had more than 25 men in attendance every Wednesday dropped to less than eight men in a matter of weeks.”
Simmons says the reaction was understandable. “The stigma HIV-positive men faced at that time was significant. Positive men felt that Us Helping Us was their only safe space and allowing in negative men would jeopardize that.” It took months of discussion and compromise to resolve the issue, including the agency’s promise that the building housing the support group would only be for positive men and a second building would be leased to serve positive and negative men.
Today, Us Helping Us provides services to a diverse population of heterosexual men and women, and transgender persons, and continues to specialize in behavioral interventions targeting black gay men. The agency has 15 full-time employees, over ten programs and services, and an annual budget of $1.5 million. All of its programs and services are free.
And to all of our friends, please consider making a donation. Your continued support will allow Us Helping Us to fight HIV in the Black community and empower the lives of Black gay and same-gender-loving men.