Muluba Habanyama honoured with award for leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community

Muluba Habanyama is being recognized with a Casey Award for leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community. The award honours Habanyama’s work as an international community activist.

As a trained journalist, with skills in writing, public speaking, sexual health education and content creation, Muluba has been advocating for all people living with HIV since she publicly declared herself positive in 2014, at just 21 years old. Her willingness to speak openly about her experience living with HIV since birth has illustrated what it was like to come of age and simultaneously navigate a world of HIV disclosure, school, work, and social relationships.

Muluba honed her advocacy skills from a young age, using them to speak on behalf of those from marginalized and under-represented communities. Supporter and fellow HIV advocate Greg Robinson says her work helps say, “we see you” and conveys that everyone is a “valid and equal members of our broad and diverse HIV community.”

Muluba has been involved in multiple awareness campaigns, including Casey House’s own #SmashStigma campaigns since their inception in 2017.  Her volunteer work with the Ontario Health Treatment Network (OHTN) on the governance committee helping ensure greater diversity and a wider range of voices on its board of directors led to a paid position, where she developed the Positive News campaign. Muluba created a series of video and television spots to bring awareness to the progress made in HIV prevention and treatment and reduce stigma by showcasing people with HIV living long, healthy lives. Muluba hosted and interviewed other people living with HIV and clinicians. Says Jean Bacon, executive director of OHTN, “Her compassion and caring, her activism, and her love of life shines through in all the Positive News work.”

Her activism extends to work to dismantle anti-Black racism, and her latest role at OHTN is to provide leadership for their diversity, equity and inclusion work alongside anti-stigma initiatives.

Muluba is not yet thirty and yet, she has accomplished much already amidst health setbacks and building a career. She is a long-term survivor. According to nominator Encrico Mandarino, “Muluba embodies everything about the… Casey award – through dedicated activism, volunteerism, leadership, and compassion [she] has made our world a better and more humane place.”

Casey House extends warm congratulations to Muluba Habanyama on achieving this recognition.

Laurie Edmiston honoured with award for decades of leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community

Laurie Edmiston is being recognized with a Casey Award for decades of leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community. The award honours Edmiston’s many years of work in harm reduction, HIV treatment and prevention, and U=U.

For more than 35 years, Laurie was an outstanding leader in mobilizing a response to HIV locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. A response grounded in the principles of social justice and health equity for vulnerable populations. Having recently retired, she leaves behind an impressive legacy of accomplishments.

In 1986, she began working in HIV as the manager of Youth-Link Inner City, a program for Toronto street youth. There, Laurie advocated for and helped start the first needle and syringe distribution program in Toronto. She pushed for free condoms in youth hostels and other youth settings amidst the resistance of colleagues and community norms of the time. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s she was also involved in volunteer work with community-based organizations responding to HIV

In 1997, Laurie went on to lead People with AIDS Foundation (PWA) amidst a time of resistance to new HIV treatments and people skeptical of health care. Laurie led the agency and its staff to provide initiatives addressing the complex social and health care needs of people living with HIV. They created practical and financial support as well as social programs for people who were isolated, and under her leadership they also started support programs to help people making decisions about initiating, adhering to, and changing HIV treatments. At this time, the organization launched the Friends for Life Bike Rally, a popular fundraiser celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Following her time with PWA, Laurie was the executive director of CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange) for 21 years until she retired in 2022. During her tenure, CATIE expanded its mandate to include prevention, testing, treatment, and care for hepatitis C as well as HIV. She was the first executive director among local and national community partners to publicly support U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable), and her credibility as a leader in the community was key to broader acceptance in Canada of the U=U message. Says the current executive director Jody Jollimore, “Coming to CATIE after Laurie’s tenure truly feels like standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Laurie was known for caring deeply about the real impact of her work on the communities most affected by HIV, and the related issues they encountered. She built a reputation as a fearless advocate for HIV and harm reduction, and as a strong mediator, facilitator, and negotiator in her dealings with partnering organizations, funders, and other HIV stakeholders. She is well known for her considered and informed decision-making, her articulate vision, and her inclusive collaboration.

Casey House extends warm congratulations to Laurie Edmiston on achieving this recognition.

Notisha Massaquoi honoured with award for leadership in social justice and equity for the HIV/AIDS community

Notisha Massaquoi is being recognized with a Casey Award for leadership in social justice and equity for the HIV/AIDS community. For nearly 30 years, she has championed access to life-affirming health care for people living with HIV.

She is a fearless advocate, academic and leadership volunteer at local grassroots organizations, the provincial health care sector and is regularly invited to volunteer and lead federal policy roundtables on issues of HIV, gender justice, anti-Black racism, and the collection of race-based data.

She helped found Africans in Partnership Against AIDS in 1992, which tackles the prevalence of HIV in African communities. In 2000, she spearheaded the development of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre and led it as executive director for over 20 years; the only health centre in North America providing specialized primary health care for Black and racialized women.

With a PhD in social justice education, Dr. Massaquoi is an assistant professor in health education and promotion with the department of health and society at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, and holds a cross appointment with the Factor Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and a faculty affiliate at both The Centre for Research & Innovation for Black Survivors of Homicide Victims (The CRIB), and the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

In her professional and volunteer service, and in her studies she recognizes and advocates to address the intersectional dimensions of gender, race, sexuality and identity as well as violence and criminalization and their overlapping effects on the social determinants of health.

This past year, Notisha became the founding director of The Black Health Equity Lab (The BHEL) and among other board positions, is currently a board trustee for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, CAMH, and CANFAR. As an expert advisor, she consults globally.

Through small gestures and heroic actions, Notisha embodies the heart and spirit of the Casey Awards. Casey House extends warm congratulations to Notisha Massaquoi for her dedication to breaking down barriers to health care for people living with HIV.

The Shevlen family honoured with award for outstanding philanthropic leadership for the HIV/AIDS community

The Shevlen family, Jane, her late husband Colin, John, Spencer, Andrea, and Gillian, are being recognized with a Casey Award for their outstanding commitment through financial contributions. The award honours the Shevlen’s continued and extraordinary support as generous donors, and their resulting impact on the HIV community.

Jane and Colin began supporting Casey House in 2010, when they first participated in the art auction, Art With Heart. Since that first art purchase their support has consistently continued to grow. With increasing contributions, volunteer roles, and an investment in profiling emerging artists, the Shevlens have increased their support every year for well over a decade.

Jane and Colin always asked to be recognized as ‘the Shevlen family’, demonstrating their commitment to contributing as an entity. They felt a responsibility to give and taught their children through example. As a result, John and Spencer are engaged and committed supporters, and now the entire family is involved.

The Shevlens continue to be prominent contributors to Art With Heart. Together, the family chooses a selection of works by emerging artists to support each year, then challenges art buyers to bid high and bid often by promising to match the winning bids with equivalent donations. Spencer volunteers on the curatorial committee, responsible for sourcing, reviewing and selecting the artwork for each year’s auction collection.

During the first year of the pandemic, the Shevlen’s recognized the impact shutdowns would have on event fundraising, and the ensuing funds the hospital relies upon, and contributed an outstanding $50,000 matching commitment to kick off a challenge to the Art With Heart community. The matching gift opportunity was the heart of Casey House Foundation’s Send Your Love campaign.

This family has truly blended their passion for Canadian art with their love and kindness for compassionate client-centred care at Casey House.

Casey House extends warm congratulations to the Shevlens on achieving this recognition of their generosity.

Rick Skimmings honoured with award for exceptional service as a peer and volunteer to the HIV/AIDS community

Rick Skimmings is being recognized with a Casey Award for exceptional service as a peer and volunteer to Casey House and the HIV/AIDS community.

While officially one is a peer by virtue of making use of one’s lived experience to support another person, Rick Skimmings believes one becomes a peer the moment you gain a client’s trust and they gain yours. His personal mission is to ensure everyone has an ear, the help, and the assistance they need, no matter their circumstances, and he works dogmatically to make this true for as many people as possible.

In addition to supporting individual clients at Casey House on a one-on-one basis, Rick also assists clients at lunch, and engages with people who are picking up harm reduction kits. He is known for saying yes to any request or task put to him and is extremely generous with his time.

One of his letters of support was from the sister of a client who has passed away. She wrote that while Rick assisted her brother in many tangible and practical ways, such as accompanying him to appointments, checking in by phone and helping him maintain a link with family, Rick was also someone the client considered a friend. His sister was particularly touched when Rick travelled to Casey House after the client’s death to be there when the funeral home came to pick him up, saying ‘I would personally like to escort him out of Casey House for the last time.”

While he has been an active peer at Casey House since peer support launched in 2019, Rick has been sharing his lived experience with AIDS service organizations as a volunteer for almost ten years.

Rick has always gone over and above the call of duty in his work as a peer, and his energy, commitment and compassion are impressive. He truly embodies the values and philosophy of Casey House, which extends warm congratulations to Rick Skimmings for his contributions.

Martha McCain honoured with award for outstanding philanthropic leadership for the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ communities

Martha McCain is being recognized with The Casey Award for her outstanding commitment through financial contributions. The award honours McCain’s continued and extraordinary support as a generous donor, and her impact on the LGBTQ community, which is far-reaching through the support of dozens of causes in the arts, education, and social justice advocacy realm.

She is an active supporter, whose significant contributions have had a lasting impact for many organizations, including Casey House, Ontario’s HIV specialty hospital. Martha was a principal supporter for Casey House’s Rebuilding lives capital campaign and their recently completed rooftop Love Family Healing Garden.

Her contributions elevate the voices of the LGBTQ community and the work of many organizations serving people who are often invisible and forgotten. This is exemplified when she co-chaired Egale Canada’s $16 million capital campaign to create Friends of Ruby, an LBGTIQ2S youth centre and transitional housing shelter. And, by her support of Toronto Inside Out Film Festival when they launched the Re-Focus fund, which is directed at the promotion of professional development, growth, and achievement in LGBTQ female and non-binary filmmakers. Of this project, Martha said she believes that her support “provides a small step toward a fairer playing field and inclusivity; giving greater voice and visibility to the LGBTQ community through film.”

This is a sampling of the projects Martha McCain has supported, and continues to support. Her work continues to create an impact, as she provides access to initiatives and opportunities that highlight the community, encouraging it to be seen.

Casey House extends warm congratulations to Martha McCain on achieving this recognition of her generosity.

Prairie Harm Reduction awarded for leadership in social justice and harm reduction for the HIV/AIDS community

Prairie Harm Reduction is being recognized with The Casey Award for being transformational in their responsive approach to the needs of people living with and at risk of HIV and Hepatitis C.

Formerly called AIDS Saskatoon, Prairie Harm Reduction is a community-based non-profit working to improve life for service users through harm reduction, emphasizing local action with national impact. They have demonstrated exemplary leadership in a province that has the highest rates of new HIV infection, primarily amongst people who inject drugs.

Executive Director Jason Mercredi has led Prairie Harm Reduction for the last five years, transforming the organization’s direction and boldly implementing much needed services to save lives and reduce HIV infection. Under Mercredi’s leadership, they opened Saskatchewan’s first supervised consumption site (SCS) last year in a challenging and adversarial political climate. Open over 12 hours a day, it is currently the only SCS in Saskatchewan and the only one in Canada offering inhalation services indoors.

Although the current provincial government has admitted that supervised consumption is an effective strategy, and while the rest of Prairie Harm Reduction’s supports are funded through the government, they were denied their funding request to operate their SCS and rely on fundraised dollars.

They have mobilized support from around the country, local businesses and leaders, neighbours and community members, through T-shirt sales, small business partnerships, and crowd funding donations. In the process, they have raised significant awareness about the HIV epidemic in Saskatchewan, educating the public about harm reduction, including reducing stigma and discrimination.

This organization works tirelessly to keep their doors open and save lives, which has inspired people across the country. Amongst the closure of SCS in Alberta and the cutting of funding to sites in Toronto Prairie Harm Reduction continues to lead, finding new ways to meet the needs of the communities they serve. They have been able to mobilize the city of Saskatoon to support the SCS, reduce stigma and discrimination and have demonstrated incredible leadership.

Most importantly, Prairie Harm Reduction has made the world a more humane place for people who use drugs and people living with HIV/AIDS in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Gregory Robinson honoured with award for exceptional volunteer service to Casey House and the HIV/AIDS community

Gregory Robinson is being recognized with The Casey Award for exceptional volunteer service to Casey House and the HIV/AIDS community.

Greg has heart, passion and clinical expertise. He is an educator, collaborator, volunteer, HIV historian and exceptional person, who generously gives of his time to share a wise and heartfelt depth of knowledge with sincerity and candor.

As an HIV positive physician, Robinson left his clinical practice in the 1980s out of fear his patients would judge and avoid him and moved into clinical epidemiology. Now retired, he continues to mentor clinical trainees and contribute to research. He has been a member of Casey House’s research advisory committee, and collaborated on many research projects.

Greg has been involved in educating numerous current and future health providers, specifically spearheading an interprofessional mentorship program with rehabilitation professionals working in the field of HIV. He generously shares his clinical expertise with students along with his personal lived experience of HIV.

Greg was a co-founding member of Realize, formerly known as the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation, and has been involved with the organization since its inception in 2009. There he has served in governance and advisory roles, as well as being a co-faculty member of the University of Toronto’s interprofessional learning course on HIV and rehabilitation. He has also contributed to an online module about HIV for U of T guest faculty and students.

He is a frequent guest speaker, and there is nothing more persuasive than when Greg is in front of an audience of dedicated care providers. He engages them with impassioned reflections on the meaning of compassionate competent care and one nominator says she has witnessed the audience be “visibly moved and potentially forever changed”.

When Greg is not giving of his time to educate, he is a kind, thoughtful, and engaged volunteer who supports Casey House clients when they are most in need. With genuine compassion he listens without judgment and offers people the tenderness that they seek when they are at their most vulnerable.

In many forums Greg speaks on behalf of people living with HIV, and in 2017, he joined a group fellow advocates as peer chefs for Casey House’s June’s HIV+ Eatery, where the public is challenged to eat a meal prepared by people living with HIV.

Greg is an extremely dedicated individual who moves through the world with unwavering compassion, generosity of spirit and dedication to client care. Casey House extends warm congratulations to Gregory Robinson for his volunteerism, which is reminiscent of the spirit of June Callwood.

Alphonso King Jr honoured with award for exceptional volunteer service to the HIV/AIDS community

Alphonso King Jr. is being recognized with The Casey Award for exceptional volunteer service to the HIV/AIDS community. The award honours King’s dedication to being an advocate for people living with and affected by HIV.

Alphonso is a self-described female impersonator, vocalist, recording artist, DJ, actor, writer and out HIV+ activist, also known under his drag recording artist name Jade Elektra, and disc jockey name DJ Relentless. Alphonso is a strong advocate for people living with and affected by HIV. He brings attention to issues faced by marginalized communities and people of colour while creating awareness around the many facets of racial discrimination, inequity and inequality, queer rights, and stigma.

Originally from Florida, Alphonso was young gay and HIV+ when he moved to New York City in the early 90s. Love brought him to Toronto in 2009, where he found an HIV+ community more hidden away than the one in New York. Alphonso took action and started POZ-TO, a monthly social event and fundraiser created to fight stigma associated with being positive, and to build community.

In partnership with his husband John Richard Allan, he created Facebook groups, produced events and fundraisers for the queer and POZ communities, such as the Daddy Issues Fundraiser, and the POZ-TO Awards, which recognizes community members for their activism. Mingle is another community fundraiser; hosted by the beautiful Jade Electra the events raise funds and awareness for a variety of AIDS service organizations such as ACT and ASAAP.

Alphonso has travelled extensively to bring attention to PrEP, PEP and U=U, important topics around sex positivity. His single ‘Undetectable’, sung to Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ created an inspirational song for the community and a creative vehicle for a message about science.

Combining the desire to build a stronger HIV+ community with fundraising for causes that support the community is a passion for King. Casey House extends warm congratulations to Alphonso for achieving this recognition of his volunteerism and fundraising.