Helping Us Grow

HIV/AIDS organization celebrates birthday with fall fundraiser

In the two decades since Us Helping Us was founded to help improve the health of African-American gay men, the organization’s scope has grown, says the group’s president, Ron Simmons.

Us Helping Us, People Into Living Inc., (UHU) came into being in 1988 at the hand of Rainey Cheeks, a well-known local gay bishop and activist.

”So a lot of people think that we’re only for black gay men. That’s not true. We were founded by a black gay man and will always be committed to black gay men, but we test over 2,100 people a year, and our case management and outreach is open to everybody,” says Simmons. ”We provide services for men, women, transgender and youth.”

Simmons, who is HIV-positive, has been involved with UHU over the past 18 years. And while Oct. 5 marked the day the organization became ”incorporated,” Simmons says the organization will celebrate its 22nd anniversary during its annual fall fundraiser, ”Passion for Living,” this year on Saturday, Nov. 13.

”It’s going to give us a chance to honor some people who really need to be honored,” Simmons says.

Those honorees are: Ernest Hopkins, co-founder of the Washington DC Black Gay and Lesbian Pride Day; Phil Pannell, an HIV/AIDS activist in D.C. since the ’80s; longtime community activist Carlene Cheatam; Mildred and Eugene Young, parents of Marvin Young, a former UHU member who has since died; Terrance Payton, elementary program director at an after-school and family-advocacy organization called the New Community for Children.

”Sometimes people criticize us because they say, ‘Why do you give away so many awards in a year?”’ Simmons says.

”I think it probably comes from the idea that you don’t know how long you’re going to be alive. If you want to give someone flowers, give it to them when they’re alive, as opposed to bringing them to the funeral.”

D.C.’s Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church, which has donated more funds to UHU than any other faith-based institution in the District, is being honored with a philanthropic award.

Grammy-nominated singer Anthony David will perform at the event.

”So it’s a joyous time, we are honoring some community leaders who have been working for us some time now, have good food, nice surroundings and music, and just enjoy making it through another year. Given how we started, each year becomes very important.”

Passion for Living is scheduled for 6-9 p.m., on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the SunTrust Bank Penthouse, 1445 New York Ave. NW. For tickets or more information, visit uhupil.org/2010-fall-reception.

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