The AIDS Clinical Trials Group Network is proud to announce that POZ Magazine nominated two Community Scientific Subcommittee (CSS) members to their annual POZ 100. This year POZ asked individuals and organizations to nominate an HIV-positive person in their community who is an unsung hero in the fight against AIDS. Aaron Laxton from the ACTG’s Washington University site in St. Louis, and Angel Luis Hernandez from the Network’s San Juan, Puerto Rico site are among 100 global recipients of POZ Magazine’s “POZ 100.”
When Laxton was first diagnosed on June 6, 2011, the first magazine that he picked up was POZ. “My goal was to become a person that was fighting to change and not simply a person that was defined by HIV,” he says. “To now be written about in this same magazine is amazing and I feel so honored.”
Laxton is always looking for ways to reach others in his community and across the world. He has found great success through his social media channels. He recorded his first YouTube video in 2011, just four days after his diagnosis. Since then he has continued documenting his fight and his video series “My HIV Journey” has been watched by almost 1 million viewers in 182 countries. Laxton also volunteers and speaks to organizations across the country. He set a goal to write more in 2013 and has been published in several national media outlets.
“I tell everyone that we all do what we can and this is simply my part,” Laxton says. “I was extremely humbled to be nominated with so many amazing people that are doing such great work. I consider all of the people on the POZ 100 to be my brothers and sisters in this fight.”
Laxton is also incredibly active within the ACTG. Aaron is co-chair of the New Member Sub-committee of the CSS and prepared training for the group at the recent Leadership Retreat. He also serves on the A5326 and A5327 protocols, bringing a community voice to the site staff and researchers on these study teams.
“While Aaron is working at the national level, he continues to attend our local monthly CAB meetings, bringing back a wealth of information on the scientific priorities of the community, seeking local input, sharing decisions made at the ACTG, and overall community movement regarding HIV research,” says Susan Wightman, the Program Manager at the Washington University site.
When Laxton is not documenting his journey he works as a case manager with homeless veterans.
Allegra Cermak, the ACTG’s Community Coordinator, is thrilled that both Laxton and Hernandez are being recognized for their hard work.
“Angel and Aaron are both active members who reach out to help others and are enthusiastic about advocacy for the community,” she says.
Since learning that he was HIV positive in 2003, Hernandez has found his niche is his community as a committed HIV/AIDS activist and educator. Angel is a member of several boards and coalitions including the National Minority AIDS Council’s Treatment, Education, Adherence and Mobilization (TEAM) Navigators; the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition; and the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s HIV Prevention Planning Group. His past work in hospital administration and as an accountant has greatly helped him serve on three quality-related committees: the Continuous Quality Improvement Committee of the Ryan White Part C Program, the Part B Steering Committee on Quality, and the Ryan White Quality Improvement Committee.
Educating others has been an important part of Hernandez’s work. He has developed presentations on a variety of HIV topics across Puerto Rico. He recognizes the importance of getting his message to those in more rural areas and those who may speak only Spanish and has created YouTube videos and translations to target these specific audiences. Hernandez says being recognized by POZ Magazine is humbling.
“There are many other people that have volunteered as activists and advocates for many more years than me, who are unsung heroes,” he says. “They deserve mention and recognition as well.”
Within the ACTG, Hernandez serves on the End-Organ Disease and Inflammation Transformative Science Group (TSG) and is the CSS representative for the Forum for HIV Collaborative Research and the representative on the Study Monitoring Committee of the End-Organ Disease and Inflammation TSG.
“Angel brings enormous enthusiasm and commitment to our group,” says Michael Lederman, MD, Chair of the End-Organ Disease and Inflammation TSG. “We are really thrilled that he has joined us.”
Hernandez is a certified HIV prevention counselor.