Photo by Jim Marks, Washington Blade. Pictured, Gil Gerald, Rev. Carl Bean, Fred Garnett, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Suki Ports, Amanda Houston Hamilton, and Paul Kawata.
In 1986, NCBLG's Executive Director Gil Gerald was concerned about the lack of a national response to HIV and AIDS in the Black community. In addition to obtaining resources from the US Department of Health and Human Services to sponsor a National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, Mr. Gerald sought to meet with the Surgeon General who was then engaged in an effort to write and publish the Surgeon General's Report on AIDS.
The work of the Surgeon General was controversial in that he was proposing to mail it to every household in the US, much like the government sends tax forms to every household every year. Many conservatives in Congress were adamantly opposed, and the White House, under President Ronald Reagan, was not out front on the issue, to say the least. Mr. Gerald sought to make it clear to the Surgeon General how important it was to highlight the impact of the epidemic on African Americans.
The Surgeon General's Office responded by inviting Mr. Gerald to meet with Dr. C. Everett Koop. The meeting was arranged for lunchtime, on the same day as the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community at the DC Convention Center. During lunch, which was being keynoted by DC Mayor Marion Barry, Gil Gerald assembled an ad-hoc group from around the country to join him in meeting with the Surgeon General. The group included, Fred Garnett, a nationally prominent PWLA at the time, Dr. Amanda Houston Hamilton from San Francisco, then involved in community-based research about HIV in the Black community, Rev. Carl Bean, then Executive Director of the Minority AIDS Project in Los Angeles, Suki Ports, then Executive Director of the Minority Task Force on AIDS in NY, and Paul Kawata, then Executive Director of the newly formed National AIDS Network.
Members of the community originally associated and not originally associated with the Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) reference this meeting as one of the milestones in organizing NMAC and there is a great deal of truth to that. While the process of forming NMAC happened overtime, Amanda Houston Hamilton recalls that after we got in the taxi heading to the meeting I asked what should we call this group, and the response was National Minority AIDS Council. The actual incorporation of that organization would follow some time later. However, the record, as illustrated in the advertising for the Conference, in the Summer 1986 issue of Black/Out, on the back cover, indicates that by then, a number of us were calling ourselves the National Minority AIDS Council, and that NMAC was listed as a co-sponsor of the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community. My memory had failed me, but I have been reminded that I was the incorporating officer of NMAC when it finally became incorporated.
During the meeting with Dr. Koop, my fondest recollection is him thanking us for the information and indicating that he had a scheduled meeting at the White House coming up where he would convey our concerns. He indicated that he was meeting with the "most important person there," and that it was not the President. No one asked, and Gil Gerald did not really want to inquire any further about who that person might be. A contemporary news article about the Conference and the meeting with Dr. Koop was published in several periodicals, including the Washington Blade, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and one by Guy Weston, published in NCBLG's Blackout magazine. There was follow-up correspondencewith Dr. Koop, after his office invited Gil Gerald to be present at the press conference releasing the Surgeon Generals Report on AIDS.