Where greatness comes from: An exclusive interview with AHF’s Michael Weinstein
By Shirley Timothee-Paul and Arri Henry
One can imagine that greatness doesn’t have a particular look; it doesn’t have a consistent background, race, upbringing or class. I and fellow journalist Arri Henry, sat amongst greatness when we had the honor of interviewing CEO and Founder of the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF), Michael Weinstein this week at the beautiful World AIDS Museum in Oakland Park, Fla..
We’re not exactly sure what we were looking for before meeting him, but for a man who has accomplished so much, we were taken aback by his easily engaging and laid back demeanor.
Having sat for maybe hundreds of interviews, we could assume this comfort and ease came with habit, but his humility and intellect became transparent in the hour that we spent together.
One after the other, Arri (of Westside Gazette’s Generation Next) and I posed questions that were responded to with far much more information than one could expect. Weinstein had a slew of sharp responses to share filled with statistics, logistics, dates and current initiatives.
Founded in 1986, Weinstein and a group of other “righteous rebels” came together to successfully end the plans to quarantine people living with AIDS. They later organized to become AHF, the powerhouse that we know today, but the battle to go against the grain and fight for what seemed “right” came with its share of harsh criticism.
We often look at the greatness of leaders like Weinstein but rarely do we examine the struggles. When asked how he managed to survive the negativity and ever-growing opposition of those who were for many reasons terrified of this then deadly disease, “each time I was knocked down, I was too dumb to stay down.” Even though Weinstein said it jokingly to us, we knew that his perseverant rebellion had positive intentions. We listened intensely to his every word, still years after beginning a world changing movement (AHF), passion still rang with his every word. For the thousands that lost their lives to this disease, dying with dignity is truly important to him. He revealed how getting things done takes planning, sacrifice and maneuvering, he utilizes a great team of people both inside and outside of the foundation to further this humanitarian cause.
As a resident of Broward County, the second county in the nation for new HIV infections, second only to Miami-Dade County, I had to ask, with all that is being done all over the world by the AHF, why is it that the numbers of infections and deaths in our communities continue to rise while there are supposedly advanced treatment and programs available for assistance? Now I’m sure we have all heard of the old saying “You can bring a mule to the water but you can’t make him drink”. Weinstein did not use these exact words but the lesson that we took away from our conversation was as simple as that. In our community, religion, tradition and culture have always been the things we take pride in, but in the situation of AIDS/HIV, the stigma of shame has been deadly.
We shared our goals of creating a closer community so that this stigma disappears. Wein-stein also shared different examples of events that had been held in communities such as ours and spoke of centers in countries like Haiti and what initiatives that are in place. We took note and learned that there is much more for us to do! As he described the different measures and techniques that were being used to get the attention of the youth, we realized that we must use similar tactics to capture the minds of those who live here.
The shame that still plagues those who have been infected and or affected by AIDS is largely the reason for our rise in infections. There must be avenues that feel more welcoming to those dying in silence. Weinstein informed us that in order to survive in the world of community service, we must be self-sustaining and not solely rely on government grants. AHF created the retail store Out of the Closet to help generate these self-sustaining funds to support their global efforts.
From this interview, we discovered that extending our hands for help isn’t always the answer. It will take hard work, strategy, preparation through research and organization that will help us reach our goals. There is also great need for self-examination by us individually and as a community, with churches in the foreground to open the door for these uncomfortable conversations. Our traditional methods are not working in an evolving world. There are leaders right here in our community that can help us reach these goals but they must be open to change. Greatness is here all around us, yes right here in our communities; with a degree of mutual respect and trust of one another, we can position ourselves to become successful and self-sustaining. Regardless of titles we hold, the jobs we have or our level of education, it’s the desire to put our own personal agendas aside for the sake of our community’s success as a whole… this is where greatness is born!
Mr. Weinstein is truly a ‘Righteous Rebel’, one of many that are described in the book by Patrick Range McDonald about the crusade of AHF to change the world. If you’re interested in helping us further this plight and join the conversation on how we can combat the stigma and spread of HIV/AIDS, please email your contact info to Westsidefirstname.lastname@example.org