Black Women and BIPOC Leaders: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges

2024-2025 Chair's Challenge - Black Women and BIPOC Leaders: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges

Clover Barnes, NASTAD Board Chair

I am Clover Barnes, Senior Deputy Director of the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration at the DC Department of Health, and will serve as NASTAD’s 2024-2025 Board Chair. I am excited to introduce my Chair’s Challenge, “Black Women and BIPOC Leaders: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges”, to NASTAD members and staff. This challenge builds on immediate-past Board Chair Dave Kern’s Chair’s Challenge by focusing on Black women as a key population in the fight to end the epidemics. Along with prioritizing Black women in syndemic approaches, my Chair’s Challenge also urges NASTAD and its membership to increase the number of BIPOC leaders in health departments and support them to oversee and advance efforts to end the epidemics. At the 2024 Annual Meeting, I explained how this challenge is very special to me as a Black woman in leadership. I shared my story and journey of going from a young Black girl born and raised in Milwaukee to the leader I am today in the public health field. I am so excited and eager to take on the role of Board Chair and lead NASTAD’s membership over this next year.

Black Women as a Key Population

In 2021, Black women accounted for 54% of new HIV infections in U.S. women, despite Black women making up less than 15% of the female population. Additionally, in 2021, the HIV infection rate among Black women was the highest compared to women of all other races and ethnicities. Among all PrEP users in the U.S. in 2021, 92% were men and only 8% were women, despite the fact that women comprised 18% of new HIV diagnoses. PrEP awareness among women in the U.S. is believed to be around 10-20%. Also, PrEP initiation is lower among women than men and significantly lower among Black women than white women. Additionally, Black people are twice as likely to be infected with hepatitis C when compared to the general U.S. population. While Black people represent only 12% of the U.S. population, they make up around 22% of the 3.2 million people living with chronic hepatitis C.

My Chair’s Challenge calls for health departments to center Black women in HIV, hepatitis, and drug user health programs as they are disproportionately impacted by these epidemics and are underserved. It is imperative to create specific community engagement, facilitate discussion and conversation opportunities for Black women, listen to their needs, and implement programs that meet these needs. For instance, the DC Health Department works closely with Whitman-Walker in the Beauty Shop Conversations: Beauty IN Wellness initiative. This initiative gathers Black and Brown women to have open discussions about sexual health and health care.

BIPOC Leaders in Public Health

It is hard to be a leader in the face of workforce challenges, turnover, and burnout. Therefore, it is essential to support and encourage BIPOC leaders in their roles. For the past 10 years, NASTAD’s Minority Leadership Program (MLP) has created a launchpad for dozens of public health professionals of color to visualize and own their leadership roles in ending health inequities. Throughout the coming year, we will use this landmark anniversary to recognize the extraordinary talent and vision of trailblazing MLP alums. I will feature MLP alums throughout my Chair’s Challenge and provide opportunities for them to connect and share their knowledge and work with our membership.

During my term as Board Chair, I am also eager to uplift the new Minority Leadership Program: Executive Activator (MLP EA). This program is a supplement to the original MLP and includes classic MLP elements and newly designed content. MLP EA will build on previous cycles of the program by curating a space rooted in social justice, for senior level health department leaders of color to engage in critical conversations around relinquishing power; program sustainability; overcoming institutional barriers to equity; developing succession plans; addressing workforce wellness; dismantling white supremacy; and establishing leadership accountability mechanisms.

My 2024-2025 Chair’s Challenge, “Black Women and BIPOC Leaders: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges”, is an opportunity for health departments to come together and uplift the voices of those who are often silenced or forgotten. I look forward to all that we will accomplish this year in our efforts to end the epidemics.