September 15, 2016

USCA kicks off with Opening Plenary celebrating its 20th anniversary

The 2016 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) kicked off today with an opening breakfast celebrating the conference’s 20th anniversary. The breakfast concluded with a moving tribute to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida earlier this year. Images of those who lost their lives were shown on screen as singer and actress Jennifer Holliday sang a beautiful rendition of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

The plenary session then began, with speakers from several organizations taking the stage to share their experiences at USCA throughout the years, and how it has inspired and informed the HIV/AIDS work they do. The speakers included Vanessa Johnson of Ribbon Consulting Group; Elton Naswood, Senior Program Analyst, of Office of Minority Health Resource Center; Michael Rajner, a USCA Host Committee Member; Deondre Moore, a Greater than AIDS Ambassador and NMAC Youth Initiative Scholar; Lance Toma, of API Wellness Center; and Latina transgender activist Bamby Salcedo. In an act of solidarity with the transgender community, Ms. Salcedo asked all the transgender attendees in the audience to join her on stage. She discussed the history of transgender activists in fighting against HIV/AIDS, and voiced the need for continued support for the transgender community around HIV/AIDS efforts and equality.

Then, the keynote speaker took the stage: Dr. David Ho, from the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, who has fought for HIV/AIDS research funding and treatment solutions for over two decades. Dr. Ho’s speech and presentation was both a look to the past – at the incredible progress that has been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment – particularly with regard to PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) – and a reminder that there is still a long road ahead if researchers are to discover a cure for the disease. Dr. Ho was also the keynote speaker at the first USCA conference twenty years ago.

To close the session, Jennifer Holliday brought down the house with a moving performance of “Love Can Move Mountains” and the hit song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” from the musical Dreamgirls, and the audience gave her a standing ovation. What a way to begin the 20th annual USCA!