When Brandi Pinckney-Green learned that NAESM Founder Rudolph “Rudy” Carn needed help to bring his vision for a new Men’s Health and Wellness Center to fruition, her first instinct as a nurse practitioner was to ask how she could help. Despite juggling teaching duties as a nurse educator at Georgia State University and as a home health and hospice RN, the Savannah, GA native, who was born into a family of nurses, says she “saw an opportunity to be a part of something good” when she received the call nearly two years ago to bring her medical expertise to this unique healthcare facility.
Carn envisioned a place where Black men of all sexual orientations could have access to holistic health care, but especially Black gay and bisexual men disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic. It’s this vision that Pinckney-Green along with Lonnie Calvin, Director of the Men’s Health and Wellness Center, work to execute daily.
“This is a judgment-free zone. I've worked in sexual health many, many years,” says Calvin. “You have to be judgment-free because everybody's got their story and you don't know what it is and what their circumstances are. So the least amount of judgment, the best for you and for the patients, for the clients, because you're going to be able to serve them better. They will see right through you if you are full of judgment or you have some issues with their sexuality. It will come out,” she says.
For Pinckney-Green, her approach to serving Black gay and bisexual men and Black men of trans experience simply comes down to following The Golden Rule.
“I’m just a simple girl from the South who treats everybody the way I want to be treated,” says Pinckney-Green. “It is not my job to understand why someone is homosexual. It's my job to help them prevent the transmission of HIV.”
Stigma remains a barrier for individuals living with HIV to get into and stay in care. It can also be a major deterrent for individuals seeking to access the services that Pinckney-Green and Calvin provide at NAESM Men’s Health and Wellness Center, which is centered in the heart of what many would describe as “the hood” in a predominantly Black lower-income area in South East Atlanta.
“When do I come? I don't want anyone to see my car outside,” Pinckney-Green recalls two of the most frequently asked questions by clients who have to overcome the stigma associated with HIV and being seen within proximity of a building associated with the virus even before they arrive. She also tells The Reckoning that getting medication into the hands of clients is another example of how stigma shows up in the lives of people living with HIV.
“They can either come here to pick up their medications, which I’ll put in a discreet bag for them or we can also mail it to their home,” says Pinckney-Green. “Legally, I have to put the label on it, but a lot of them rip the labels off before they leave, and I just shred it,” she says.
The NAESM Men’s Health and Wellness Center is not restricted to HIV care, nor is the focus solely on Black cisgender gay men. Pinckney-Green says she is also focused on hypertension, colon cancer, and other diseases African American men are considered being at high risk for acquiring, along with STI screenings and treatment among heterosexual Black men—a population that historically hasn’t considered themselves at risk for HIV.
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