This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

P.J. Moton-Poole has worked in public health for 16 years, serving communities through educating and increasing access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment.

“I have always desired to be a luminous connector, using everything I have learned up to this point to continue to light a path forward and build a better road for those who come behind me, particularly those who belong to the same communities that I belong to or come from,” he says. “As a Black queer man living with HIV,  I bring a unique perspective to this role [because I’ve] lived many of the struggles faced by the communities we serve at ViiV [Healthcare].”

The communities he helps in his role as Senior Manager of U.S. External Affairs are the ones most disproportionately impacted by HIV — Black and Latinx communities, people living in southern states, women, youth and men who have sex with men. Moton-Poole manages grants and programs that assist community organizations in caring for people living with and impacted by HIV.

His focus on health equity and addressing social determinants that drive the HIV epidemic began before he even finished college. “I was lucky enough to find passion in this work and the opportunity to engage in it as a professional at a very early age — my freshman year in undergrad,” he says. Since earning his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University and Master of Social Work from Washington University, Moton-Poole has continued to amplify the voices and needs for people living with HIV, most recently through initiatives launched through ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action program.

He talked to Blavity about the accelerate Initiative and overcoming HIV stigma.

What is the accelerate Initiative?

The accelerate Initiative is ViiV Healthcare’s commitment to supporting community-driven activities that strengthen the health and well-being of Black gay, bisexual, queer and trans men. It initially launched in 2015 as ViiV Healthcare’s pilot place-based initiative in Jackson, Mississippi, and Baltimore, Maryland. Today, the accelerate Initiative supports 24 organizations and programs across the country with an investment of more than $8 million. Since 2010, ViiV Healthcare has provided more than $78.5 million to more than 200 community-based organizations in 120 communities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico through Positive Action programs and community grants.

How much progress do you think has been made in removing the stigma around HIV since the start of the HIV epidemic?

While we’ve achieved tremendous progress since the start of the epidemic, we’re simultaneously enduring tremendous disparities and inequities that have yet to be addressed. HIV is now manageable, and many can expect to live a normal life span, [but] not everyone can benefit and progress equally in society. There’s more work to be done. Black and Latinx communities remain disproportionately impacted by HIV, and it’s largely because of the stigmas associated with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Many Black people living with HIV disproportionately experience a variety of hardships that impact their mental, physical and emotional health, making it a constant uphill battle for those seeking the necessary resources to live happy, healthier lives. This is why we need to take action to combat stigma as we engage in HIV prevention and care — a crucial step that will heavily contribute to ending the HIV epidemic, especially in the Black community.

Can you share any examples of past work you’ve done to help overcome HIV stigma?

One of the past experiences that has deepened my commitment to overcoming HIV stigma was being a part of the inaugural Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event launched by the Southern AIDS Coalition. There are so many brilliant Black and Brown minds at the heart of one of history’s most instrumental civil rights movements in my hometown (Birmingham, AL). The feeling that I got sharing space with those folks reignited my sense of belonging and purpose in this work.

ViiV Healthcare will continue to support events like these, further empowering those impacted by HIV to build a future where there is no epidemic. While we take the steps to create a new future, this year marks a truly special year for AIDS Walks and Black Prides across the country as they return to in-person events for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly three years later, being able to reflect on the impact of the pandemic and how we have embraced our challenges to fuel our fight against HIV will be such a rewarding experience.

In what ways or in what areas does more progress need to happen to end the epidemic and break down stigma?

The resources that we have for HIV don’t always trickle down to the people who need them the most. Our society operates in a way where communities don’t receive resources equally, leaving community-based organizations to solve some of our biggest issues with the leanest budgets. That is simply not possible.

That’s why we released our Economist Impact report [in 2021], titled “Achieving health equity: a roadmap to eliminating disparities,” which outlines learnings at the intersection of HIV and other STIs, mental health and COVID-19. Though factors such as the number of sexual partners, drug use and others are often assumed to be the sole drivers of these disparities, the evidence demonstrates otherwise. In 2018, Black individuals also made up 41% of people with HIV, despite only representing 13% of the population in the U.S. This significant gap between HIV risk and behaviors is an urgent indicator of the impact of disparities, which is why it’s more important than ever to direct resources to our underserved communities and ensure they’re armed with the essential tools to end the epidemic.

As long as stigma persists, Black communities will continue to bear the burden of these myths. We must combat stigma by bringing awareness to the forefront of public health. Otherwise, we will jeopardize the progress we have made against the epidemic.

What can we do in our everyday lives to prevent or address HIV stigma?

It is our collective responsibility to combat stigma when we witness it. This meaning educating yourself and those around you about the facts related to HIV. There’s a saying that goes “You learn something new every day,” so let today be that day to learn more about the HIV epidemic. Once you have learned the facts, take every opportunity whether online, in person, or otherwise to “call in” those who are using stigmatizing language and false narratives around HIV. It doesn’t have to be aggressive; let it be a learning opportunity. We all play a role in ending the HIV epidemic. HIV doesn’t end for any of us, until it ends for all of us.

Learn more about ViiV Healthcare initiatives by visiting #HIVinView and Risk to Reasons.

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with ViiV Healthcare.