By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), an organization that has worked for 25 years to curb the HIV epidemic in Toronto’s African, Caribbean and Black communities, is gearing up for changes at different levels of government that will affect its work.
At an annual general meeting held on September 30 at its offices in downtown Toronto, Black CAP said that there is much that it wants to accomplish in its 26th year.
“There is significant sectoral change taking place at the federal, provincial and municipal levels; this change will inform our work. For instance, as the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care launches a new six-year strategy to inform HIV and AIDS programming across the province, we’ll work to identify areas where the agency can align its services and approaches,” it notes in its Annual Report 2013/2014 regarding the year ahead.
Board chair, Maureen Owino, and executive director, Shannon Thomas Ryan, in their report, note that Black CAP was founded in 1989 by a group of concerned community members who felt that there was a gap that needed to be filled.
They observed that then, like today, the vulnerability of Toronto’s African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) communities to HIV requires a specific response that is led by community for community.
“In fact, our motto ‘Because All Black People’s Lives are Important’ is as relevant as it was in the late 80s, perhaps increasingly so as barriers to health, wellness, settlement, testing and treatment for ACB communities seem to be greater than ever,” they said.
Over the past year, the organization worked to ensure that its board, management, staff and volunteers, fulfilled the areas highlighted in its strategic plan.
The four strategic directions are: solidify its base, enhance its visibility, invest in Meaningful Involvement of People living with HIV/AIDS (MIPA) and achieving equity, and diversifying and increase in its revenues.
This year, the agency launched a new partnership with Dr. Carmen Logie, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto, to assess the impact of its Foreign Integration and Rainbow Sistas groups to determine if they improve settlement outcomes for LGBTQ refugees.
It plans to expand its focus on research in collaboration with academics examining various areas, such as the vulnerabilities of newcomers to Canada and of Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM).
Black CAP has also expanded its presence through social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With a total of 2,619 posts on Facebook and Twitter, it has increased its visibility and hopes to build on this success in the coming year to share HIV-related information and education.
The agency has developed a new website to tell its story that will be launched in the coming weeks.
There are also plans to expand programming to ensure its visibility in spaces where Persons living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) access other services such as doctors and lawyers offices, settlement agencies, etc.
“We will also be formalizing partnerships with Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto General Hospital and other HIV and LGBTQ service providers,” notes Black CAP in its plans for the year ahead.
In mid-2014, a pilot of the program, Healthy Relationships, was launched to help young women. It is an evidence-based intervention, focused on supporting young women living with HIV to develop coping skills when disclosing their HIV status to family and friends, sexual partners and building healthier and safer relationships.
Black CAP has also worked with the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN) to implement the new Women’s Peer Support Program.
The program identifies HIV positive women who will provide peer-driven supports to other positive women in the community in the months ahead.
The board and staff will continue training in areas such as anti-racism and anti-oppression.
Black CAP also plans to increase fundraising, build on the opportunity of having a dedicated fundraising staff and establish a monthly giving program.
Over the past year, the board and its fundraising committee have worked to significantly expand its role in relation to fundraising.
In the summer of this year, the organization hired its first-ever fundraising staff which was made possible by funding it received from the Investing in Neighbourhoods program.
On December 11, there will be an annual fundraising event held in Toronto featuring former Canadian Idol winner, Gary Beals.
Black CAP is the largest service provider of its kind in Canada, providing outreach experts, support specialist and activists, dedicated to improving outcomes for African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) people who are living with and affected by HIV.
Its mission is to reduce the spread of HIV infection within Toronto’s ACB communities and to enhance the quality of life of people living with, or affected by HIV/AIDS.
“At this time, ACB people account for almost one-third of all new HIV infections in Ontario; in the early nineties we made up only one-tenth of new infections. Issues of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, homophobia, anti-Black racism, immigration, poverty, and barriers to social inclusion also continue to make our work harder,” notes Black CAP.
Meanwhile, program director, Hope Ramsay, said there is much to celebrate about the work done by the dedicated staff.
“Teams were strengthened and our clients and communities have expressed satisfaction with the service they received. We are proud of the accomplishments of all staff and salute their hard work and commitment to upholding Black CAP’s mission,” said Ramsay, in her report.
The board acknowledged her for significantly strengthening the agency’s program delivery capacity and building on its strengths.