Photo of the state of West Virginia outline with counties shaded red where confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified. Counties without diagnoses are colored in grey.

So, I’ve Been Thinking…Defending Science

I’ve been thinking about science versus politics, especially since clashes between the White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are in the news so much these days.

It’s important that we defend science. After all, whether we are trying to solve COVID-19, HIV, Substance Use Disorder, or even racial and class inequality, it’s science that will undergird successful strategies. But we also have to defend science because science is how we explore, understand, and unpack what we believe to be true. It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” The United States was born as a hypothesis: Everybody deserves equal rights, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and here’s how we give it to them.

How do you test a hypothesis? Perform an experiment. George Washington called the new American government a “great experiment.” And this country is an experiment in many ways. The whole history of the United States has been our ongoing attempt, as a people, to “form a more perfect Union.” To figure it out. To get it right.

The experiment has revealed some important truths. Like you can’t have equality and liberty and democracy if you take away land from Native people, enslave Black people, deny a voice to women and poor people. And when you finally stop doing those things? You can’t just pretend they never happened and magically have a system that will be fair and equitable for everybody. Not after generations of restricting, for instance, where Black people could live, go to school, and work, making it nearly impossible for many to emerge from poverty, purchase homes, or pass along wealth.

You can see people out there right now, absorbing that data. Look at the diversity in age, race, and class among people who are in support of Black Lives Matter. More people than ever before now understand that systems in this country are biased, and need reform. Not just the police and the criminal justice system, but most of our systems and institutions. That’s why we’re in the midst of social unrest, leading to social realignment. Because people are paying attention. They are looking at the data. They are seeing Black people getting profiled, stopped, arrested, beaten, shot, imprisoned, and executed at disproportionate rates compared with other people. They are recognizing the bias within systems and institutions, spoken or unspoken, and they’re saying, “Okay, it’s not working. Let’s try things a different way.”

Some people feel threatened by calls for change. They believe trying things a different way means admitting the experiment was a failure. What they don’t understand is: America is not the product of an experiment. America is the experiment. And that experiment is still playing itself out. It is still going on, every day. That’s how science works. If the data proves your hypothesis wrong, you admit

that you still haven’t found the best way to guarantee people equal rights—and then you keep experimenting until you figure it out. Until you get it right.

Calling for change is not rejecting America. Rejecting science is rejecting America. Because America is science. That’s why it’s so bizarre and inappropriate when people criticize Dr. Fauci for changing his positions over time. That’s what a good scientist does! Hypothesis: Here’s how we protect people from COVID-19. Then you look at the data and adjust the hypothesis as the experiment reveals the truth.

Here’re some more data: You can’t stop a pandemic like COVID-19 if you’re only worrying about yourself—if only half the people in the country are practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. You have to think about family members, neighbors, strangers. You might think everything’s fine because you’re asymptomatic, but science tells us that wearing a mask and social distancing is how you work on behalf of the greater good, your country, the world. Science tells us to take care of each other.

Politics does the opposite. Modern politics is all about dividing people up into Us and Them, and no need to care about Them. In politics, no truths are self-evident and the only important data is whatever confirms what we want to believe. But simply insisting “Everything’s fine” about COVID works no better than simply insisting everything’s fine about race, justice, and equality. The data says otherwise.

So what I’ve been thinking about is how America is the greatest scientific experiment in history. Being loyal to that experiment means asking: Did things go the way we expected? If not, what did we learn and how can we apply that information to making things better?

America is science. We can’t let politics get in the way of that. That’s why I support Dr. Anthony Fauci. All Americans should.

Where Do We Go: Race, Class, COVID, and More Webinar

Event flyer for the webinar, Where Do We Go - Race, Class, COVID, and More with images of Host & Moderator, A. Toni Young, and panelists, Linda Villarosa, Steven W. Thrasher, PhD, Alphonso David, Dr. Carl W. Dieffenbach, & Dr. David Campt.
Flyer Design: Meelah Marketing, LLC

Join Community Education Group’s A. Toni Young, as she hosts distinguished panelists in a discussion about race, class, COVID-19, and more in CEG’s second webinar of the summer, Where Do We Go.

Join us on Thursday, July 23rd, 2020, @ 3:00 PM Eastern for a phenomenal conversation including some of the greatest minds in racial equity in public health.

Meet the Panelists

Linda Villarosa is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, covering race, health and inequality and a former executive editor at Essence Magazine. Her 2018 Times Magazine cover story on infant and maternal mortality in black mothers and babies was nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Last year she contributed to the ground breaking 1619 Project. Her essay examined physiological myths, based on race, that have endured since slavery. Most recently, her April cover story examined race, health disparities and covid-19 through the lens of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club of New Orleans. Linda teaches journalism at the City College of New York and is writing the book Under the Skin: Race, Inequality and the Health of a Nation, which will be published by Doubleday in 2021.

Steven W. Thrasher, PhD, holds the inaugural Daniel H. Renberg Chair at Northwestern University, the first journalism professorship in the world endowed to focus on LGBTQ people. He is also a professor of journalism in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism His writing has been widely published in the New York Times, Guardian, Village Voice, BuzzFeed, Esquire, Slate, Souls, the Journal of American History and in ten book anthologies. Named Journalist of the Year by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists’ Association in 2012 and one of the most influential LGBTQ people of the year by Out magazine in 2019 , Dr. Thrasher holds a BFA in filmmaking and a PhD in American Studies from New York University. His research on race, H.I.V./AIDS and the criminalization of sickness has been awarded grants from the Alfred P. Sloan, Gannett and Ford Foundations. He is currently writing his book, The Viral Underclass: How Racism, Ableism and Capitalism Plague Humans on the Margins, for the Celadon Books imprint of Macmillan Publishing.

Alphonso David
Human Rights Campaign

Alphonso David is President of the Human Rights Campaign. Alphonso is an accomplished and nationally recognized LGBTQ civil rights lawyer and advocate. He’s the first civil rights lawyer, the first Black man and first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s 40-year history.

He has been at the forefront of the movement for LGBTQ equality for more than a decade at the national and state level, serving and as Counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as New York Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights, and as a staff attorney at the Lambda Legal.

LGBTQ Organizations Unite to Combat Racial ViolenceSign-On Letter

Dr. David Campt

With more than 25 years of professional experience, Dr. David Campt (@thedialogueguy) is considered a national expert in the areas of inclusion and equity, cultural competence, and intergroup dialogue.

His insights about the keys to more inclusive and effective institutions and communities have been sought by small executive boards of fewer than a dozen to large-scale summits involving thousands of people. His clients have varied widely, and have included the US military, The White House, large corporations, international organizations, foundations, governments, universities, national associations, and non-profit groups.

David is the author of a number of books including The Little Book of Dialogue for Difficult Subject (2007) and Read the Room for Real: How A Simple Technology Creates Better Meetings. (2015). In early 2016, he created a project called the Ally Conversation Toolkit (ACT), which has engaged thousands of people in person and on line. Under this initiative, David has written three books – White Ally Toolkit Workbook, a supplement for the workbook called the Discussion Group Leaders Guide, and the Compassionate Warrior Boot Camp for White Allies. David’s work on dismantling racism has been featured by a number of prominent media outlets, such as Think Progress and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

White Ally Toolket –

A Man for the Times: David Campt, top race relations expert, sees progress – Rockingham Now

Dr. Carl W. Dieffenbach
Division of AIDS
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
National Institutes of Health

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach is the Director of DAIDS at the NIAID. DAIDS supports a global research portfolio to advance biological knowledge of HIV/AIDS, its related co-infections, and co-morbidities. With the goal of ending AIDS, the Division fosters research to: 1) reduce HIV incidence through the development of effective vaccine and biomedical prevention strategies; 2) improve therapy and cure HIV infection; 3) treat and/or prevent the co-infections with the highest disease burden and 4) foster partnerships to implement effective interventions at scale.

Since February 2020, I have worked tirelessly to bring effective prevention and treatment strategies in the clinical evaluation for COVID-19. These include direct acting antivirals, preventive vaccines and monoclonal antibodies directed against the SARS-CoV-2 to prevent and treat COVID.

The search for an HIV vaccine, the journey continuesJournal of the International AIDS Society

Event flyer for the webinar, Where Do We Go - Race, Class, COVID, and More with images of Host & Moderator, A. Toni Young, and panelists, Linda Villarosa, Steven W. Thrasher, PhD, Alphonso David, Dr. Carl W. Dieffenbach, & Dr. David Campt.

CEG is a national organization that offers local programs and policy solutions.

We serving diverse populations, prioritizing indigenous populations and populations in need

CEG’s work includes Direct Service programs, Policy work, and Capacity Building

So, I’ve Been Thinking… Special Video Edition – June 2020

A. Toni Young
Founder & Executive Director
Community Education Group

(Below is a transcription of this month’s special video edition of Toni’s, “So, I’ve Been Thinking…” segment in CEG’s monthly newsletter)

So, I’ve been thinking…

I’ve been thinking that systemic change is not going to be easy.

I was talking to a friend of mine, the other day – and my mentor – and he asked if I could’ve imagined this, six months ago. And, I frankly said, “No.”

I mean, who could’ve imagined a global pandemic, more than 40 million Americans unemployed, and the death – the murder – of a black man captured by a teenage girl on the street corner to be the start of a revolution? And I call it a revolution – and I say it’s a revolution – because, it’s revolutionary thought.

You know, there’s a lot of social media out there about what’s going on with the protests – what people are asking for – but, there was one young woman who both summed up what I was thinking, as well as articulated what I believe in my heart. And what she said was, at the end of her talk – at the end of her education to us – what she said is, “What people ought to be grateful for is that black people want equity; not revenge.”

And it stopped me in my tracks, when she said it, because that’s what I think we want:

We want equity;

We want to be treated equal to anyone else;

We want opportunity;

We want to not be shot, because of the color of our skin;

We want to have access to healthcare, and not die at a great proportion to other populations from a global pandemic;

We want access to education that is right and equal;

We want access to anything;

We want the right to vote, and not in gerrymandered districts.

And I think what it also got me thinking about is the fact that I’ve work in southeast D.C., I’ve work in Appalachia, I’ve worked across the world, in some cases, but I want us to always come back to this:

Systemic change is not just the elimination of police brutality and black people getting shot in the streets. That seems to basic…so basic of a right:

To not be shot;

To not worry that the police are going to follow me across the Oakland Bridge;

To not worry that, if I’m in D.C. in my car, that I’m going to get pulled over, and then, when they realize that I’m female, not male, I get let go.

So, what I’ve been thinking about is, are we ready for systemic change, and are we ready for systemic change for the corporations that we deal with, the institutions that we deal with – those can be HIV corporations, LGBT, regular commercial organizations and institutions – but, are we ready to continue this fight all the way?

I believe we are.

I believe that some people may believe that this is just a fight to end police brutality, but that’s not what the streets are saying.

So, I’ve been thinking that it’s also important that we do more to be supportive and kind to one another.

And the “one another” is to black people:

To hold fragile the blackness that we share;

To see it as a fragile thing;

To understand that privilege is not just a thing of white people; that privilege – race, class, and privilege – privilege is something that some of us black people have, too, and what do we do with it? How do we use it? Do we use it to lift up our brothers and sisters? And that all – not a select group; not just “those.”

That we’ve made a commitment to help all black people.

That we’ve made a commitment – in my case – to help all black people, all poor people. The suffering.

That I can no longer be in a position where I put people down. Throw shade, if you will.

Those things that we often do to one another can be more harmful.

So, I’ve really been thinking it’s also an important time for me to stand up and say, “No!” Because, I think all of us have probably had experiences, had traumas, experienced racism, or classism, and had little place to turn.

But, I think now is the time where we, and I, have to stand up and say, “No! It’s not okay. It’s not okay to treat me, mine, us, we, that way,” whoever that us and we may be.


CEG is a national organization that offers local programs and policy solutions.

We serving diverse populations, prioritizing indigenous populations and populations in need

CEG’s work includes Direct Service programs, Policy work, and Capacity Building

Welcome To Community Perspectives

By: A. Toni Young

I’d like to welcome readers to the first entry in CEG’s new blog, Community Perspectives.  This post will serve as a brief introduction to the purpose of this blog, and a brief explanation of why I think it’s so important to hear from people we might not otherwise encounter.

The work that CEG has done in Washington, DC, West Virginia, Australia, Mexico, and beyond has consistently focused on the underserved and unheard.  When I first started, we were the National Women and HIV/Project.  In would become the Community Education Group, back in 1994, part of what called me to service was my dear friend Stephen M. Clement – the first, but not the last, of my dear friends to parish from “The Plague”.

On one of my last visits with Stephen, a gay, white, red-headed Texan, he looked me and said, “One day, HIV is going to look more like you than me.  More women, black and brown people.”

I was a bit shocked, but he went on to say, “I would be one of your only friends in a position to pay your medical bills if you got sick.”

Most women and people of color impacted by AIDS at this time – 1992 – had few resources, organizations, or a voice in policy.

CEG’s Background

Founded in 1993 as the National Women and HIV/AIDS Project (NWAP), Community Education Group’s (CEG) focus has always been on the Black community, particularly the risks and challenges faced by Black women.  NWAP’s immediate goal was eliminating the myth that HIV only affected homosexual white males.  Broadcasting the message that everyone was at risk, the new non-profit conducted face-to-face outreach and distributed culturally conscious pamphlets and posters to other organizations and the public, nationwide.

In 1999, NWAP became the Community Education Group (CEG), as I sought to expand the organization’s efforts to better address the challenges facing my Southeast DC community.  At this time, in addition to reaching out to heterosexual men and the recently incarcerated, CEG began to focus on creating strong, innovative community-based programming and providing training and technical assistance to fellow nonprofits.  With the knowledge that the HIV/AIDS epidemic could not be stopped by only talking to women, nor by only talking about HIV, CEG became the organization most capable of offering HIV testing to the DC neighborhoods hardest hit by the HIV epidemic, best able to develop and spread health messaging in our Black community, and a leader of collaborative and capacity building efforts.

            CEG’s Organizational Mission – CEG seeks to stop the spread of HIV and eliminate health disparities in high-risk communities by training community health workers, educating and testing hard to reach populations, and sharing our expertise with other organizations through national networks and local capacity-building efforts.

Over the years, I, along with various team members, put together a number of programs aimed directly at aiding underserved communities in the DC area.  We put out media campaigns; we engaged in direct service provision in DC neighborhoods where nobody else would go; we distributed condoms, conducted HIV tests, and linked people into care using our CHAMPs (Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Prevention Services) model, using peer-based outreach and services.  For over twenty years, CEG’s work set standards for service provision in underserved communities, and of that work I was and am immensely proud.

When I moved to West Virginia, eight years ago, my plan was to retire.  I bought a cabin, moved in with my dogs and cat, and planned to stay involved in a remote capacity, at most.  But, like most of my life stories (of which there are many), things never quite turn out the way I initially expect.

What I found in West Virginia was yet another community of underserved, unheard voices facing an HIV epidemic and, again, nobody was talking about it.  While I knew, intellectually, that rural America had cases of HIV, what I didn’t know was how deep – how hidden – the problem was.

When we talk about HIV infection rates in the South, we think of jurisdictions like Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas – areas where rates of new infections are still high, and black and brown people are paying the price.  What I found in West Virginia (and Kentucky…and Ohio…and Indiana) was that a culture of “not talking about it” had led to outbreaks of Viral Hepatitis, which we were catching, and also pockets of HIV.

Photo of an outline of the state of West Virginia made out of white powder, presumably heroin or cocaine, and a rolled up straw for snorting it

When the news of the outbreak in Scott County, Indiana made waves, back in 2015, I looked around West Virginia and saw the exact same circumstances, here, that made Scott County ripe for an epidemic: an area devastated by local industry job losses; high rates of physical and social isolation; high rates of Injection Drug Use and overdose deaths.  On top of all of those factors, West Virginia has almost no rural public health infrastructure in place to provide healthcare services to these people who were at high risk of an HIV outbreak.

And that’s what happened.  West Virginia saw a 13% increase in new HIV infections from 2017 to 2018, and a staggering 67.8% increase from 2018 to 2019.  In 2019, 61.6% of those newly identified cases listed Injection Drug Use as a primary risk factor for transmission (OEPS, 2020).

Unlike the outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, what didn’t happen was the kind of national and international press coverage that put Scott County on the map for HIV advocates.  Instead, little attention has been paid to West Virginians who are battling the same exigent circumstances as Scott County, but with added geographic and topographic barriers to care.

Once again, voices are not being heard.  Once again, meaningful change is not occurring, because those who have been failed by our healthcare system are being scapegoated and their voices ignored.

What’s more is that this problem isn’t specific to West Virginia – rural Americans across the United States are facing gaps in service, and despite all of the rhetoric about politicians listening to “Real Americans” when making decisions, those same politicians are happy to look the other way when it comes to adequately funding healthcare programs and infrastructure building that will serve these “Real Americans.”

This is why we have started Community Perspectives.  To give voice to people who might not otherwise be heard.  To introduce America to the people who are in the trenches our nation’s syndemic healthcare crises, whether that be Substance Use Disorder, Viral Hepatitis, Trans Health, HIV, or even access to basic utilities like running water.

Community Perspectives will feature pieces written by myself, our Policy Coordinator, Marcus J. Hopkins, and our Project Coordinator, Ty Williams.  In addition, we will be featuring voices from West Virginia and beyond, telling us their stories, and adding their Perspectives to our Community. Thank you, for continuing to be a part of Community Education Group’s community, and I hope you will follow this blog and share it with your friends, neighbors, family, and networks so that we can make these voices heard.


Office of Epidemiology and Prevention. (2020, May 01). HIV Diagnoses by County, West Virginia, 2018-2019 (As of May 1, 2020). Charleston, WV. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources: Bureau for Public Health: Office of Epidemiology & Prevention: HIV and AIDS. Retrieved from:

CEG is a national organization that offers local programs and policy solutions.

We serving diverse populations, prioritizing indigenous populations and populations in need

CEG’s work includes Direct Service programs, Policy work, and Capacity Building

Disclaimer: Blog posts on CEG’s Community Perspectives blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Education Group, its grantors, its corporate sponsors, or its organizational partners, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby each author serves to promote open, honest discussion about issues specific to their personal expertise, lived experience, and perspective. Please note that some of the content on Community Perspectives may begraphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed by the author.