Tyrell Manning has seen someone he loves be taken away by HIV. That experience has shaped him into who he is today: an advocate for helping minorities combat this epidemic.

As one of 10 activists, Manning is participating in the inaugural HIV 360° Fellowship Program, which was co-funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The program is meant to offer intensive leadership training in a collaborative effort to support communities hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.

Manning is a regional integration specialist of Williams and Associates, Inc. in St. Louis, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “provide preventive health education, diseases prevention, health promotion and care services that address the health disparities of minorities in the St. Louis Bi-State Region, with particular regard to African Americans.”

Manning was nominated for the fellowship by his boss. He then went through an application process which included multiple essays and Skype interviews that ended with him being one of 10 people selected out of 90 applicants. He wanted to get involved with the fellowship because he feels the Midwest region is often looked over when it comes to work to end the HIV epidemic.

“I wanted to represent my city and my region because we’re often looked over but yet we still have a great deal of work to do in our community as far as HIV work here in the Midwest,” Manning says.

Manning says he finds it harder to educate and reach out to the younger generation before they get to the age where they start exploring their sexuality and become open to HIV/AIDS. He says this is a particular problem with the black MSM (men who have sex with men) community.

“St. Louis is still battling with this,” he says.

Manning identifies as a black MSM. He came out about two years. What inspired his advocacy today was his uncle, who was diagnosed with HIV. Manning’s uncle passed away 20 years ago. Manning says his uncle died very young, which inspires him to try to reach out to the younger generation.

“I felt like I had to do the work for him in his honor and continue the legacy that he has,” Manning explains.

Manning was married to a woman for some years, but now feels like he can be himself. He says being able to wake up in the morning, being himself and doing the work he loves is very satisfying.

And the work that he loves is his position as a regional integration specialist at Williams and Associates, Inc.  Manning first got involved with the organization through a friend. He was still trying to find out where he fit in the world and that the organization welcomed him with open arms. He started out volunteering before being offered his current position.

“I just felt nothing but love,” he says.

Manning’s work consists of reaching out to and testing around 60 African-Americans a month for diseases. If they test positive, they are integrated into care. If they test negatively, they are integrated into interventions where they learn about ways to minimize chances of HIV. Manning says the organization lets him do what he feels is necessary for the greater good of the community.

Work with the fellowship

Recently, Manning traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of a retreat for the HIV 360° Fellowship Program. He says the biggest takeaway was when the fellows were presented with evaluations beforehand about themselves. The evaluations were then given to peers of Manning, which included his co-workers and people in the community.

“We got feedback from our bosses, from our coworkers, from people in the community about ways we could better ourselves in looking out our community,” Manning says.

That feedback included conversations about the missions of each program the fellows were involved with and what is being done to achieve that mission, as well as emotional intelligence and leadership and developing brands.

“That was one of the most amazing sessions, even though it was very emotional and I probably cried a little bit,” he explains.

The other fellows come from organizations in California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana. Manning says it is amazing that there are many people from the South, which he says the HIV epidemic is most prevalent, but that there is a variety of areas being addressed. It also brings a variety to the types of works. Manning says in particular, Milan Sherry, an advisory board member for Positively Trans in North Carolina, come out full force talking about how there are other issues she is fighting for that go beyond just HIV such as black lives and equal rights..

“Everyone of us have a unique role and a unique piece that we add to this work,” Manning says.

Manning says that he hopes to learn to how develop and affirm himself as a leader and using those qualities to achieve real change in the St. Louis community. Manning says he believes this program can help bring about an end to the HIV epidemic because it brings in diverse approaches and perspectives.

“I think that diversity brings unity and that unity brings camaraderie,” he says.  “That’s honestly what HRC is putting into us not just coming to a fellowship and saying we’re a part of this group, but actually going back and doing the work that we’re discussing. Every one of the fellows are passionate about what they’re doing and it’s so much more than a job.” V

By Bill Loellke