Christopher’s life’s passion has always been to be of service to others and this is reflected in his thirty-seven years of lived experience in community engagement, education, and caregiving.
He vividly remembers taking a standardized career assessment evaluation while in the sixth grade. The results were to give him guidance on what career would best suit him. “My results said I would have the greatest chance of success being a lawyer, politician, or a humanitarian/philanthropist. I chose the latter.” He still finds amusement in reflecting upon how a basic evaluation became the life he would live.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Christopher was raised in Southern California, worked for The Advocate (a national LGBTQ+ newsmagazine) at its Hollywood, CA office and New York City, NY office. He was working with The Advocate during the height of the AIDS crisis and he witnessed many friends and co-workers die horribly devastating deaths all too often. Christopher was responsible for organizing a week-long AIDS fundraising event in NYC that included a gala on The Intrepid Aircraft Carrier with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and others and events throughout NYC at different venues. Christopher was so excited being in NYC that he made the decision to move there two weeks after returning to CA. “My time in NYC was some of the best years of my life. I thrived on the fast pace, the diverse cultures, nightlife and music scenes, museums, architecture, Broadway, and the wonderful people who crossed my path.”
In 1993, Christopher left NYC because he wanted to be closer to his parents who had retired in Asheville, North Carolina. During his first decade in NC, he launched an in-school and after-school program called Success Through Education And Motivation (STEAM). “My heart was telling me to do something about the minority achievement gap among high-risk students and because I was alarmed at seeing young kids losing hope on ever realizing their American Dream, let alone graduating from high school.”
His other endeavors included being the publisher of a monthly entertainment and nightlife magazine and working with iHeartRadio and its six radio stations in community relations, on-air broadcasts, promotions, and marketing. It was in 2012 that Christopher “…felt like his entire world had been turned upside down…” as he watched his parents’ health decline. Because of Christopher’s largely entrepreneurial career history, he was able to “…shift on a dime…” and devote his time wherever it was most needed. “It was a no brainer. My parents needed a lot of support and I was prepared to do whatever I could to make their final years as peaceful as possible.”
“I moved in with my parents to become their 24/7, full-time caregiver as my mother courageously fought Dementia with Lewy Bodies and my father battling many health issues along with Frontotemporal Dementia.” To make his physical, mental, and emotional plates even fuller, Christopher tested positive for HIV during his first year of living with his parents. “I was in disbelief, shock and overwhelmed. To make life even harder, I ended up in the hospital with AIDS. My only thought was who’s going to take care of mom and dad?” Despite his own health challenges, Christopher continued caregiving. After valiant efforts by his parents, his father passed in 2016 followed by his mother in 2018. “Four days after burying my father, I drove 5-hours to UNC Chapel Hill and signed my first informed consent for a phase 1 HIV Cure Trial.”
Christopher went on to completing his first trial, then his second, and a third trial at UNC Chapel Hill. Throughout Christopher’s journey, he gained strength in remembering what his mother had said, “Don’t give up the ship!” During one of his five infusions, which required a few days of hospital and clinical observation after each infusion, Christopher asked Dr. Joseph Eron, “What else can I do?” Joe responded, “We always need community at the table. Let me get back to you.” Christopher recounts, “Within only hours, I had the CAB coordinator sitting beside my bed waiting patiently for me to wake up.”
Then, Dr. David Wohl contacted him and invited him to attend its CAB meeting. Christopher joined the CAB in 2019 and became its GCAB representative in 2020 where he’s now in his second two-year term. “The past few years of being a GCAB representative has changed my life in innumerable ways. I love learning and interacting with others from sites across our network including GCAB representatives, CAB members, PI’s and ACTG’s leadership.” Because of Christopher’s natural ability for public speaking and his enthusiastic energy, he was asked to present at the 2022 and 2023 annual meetings. He was honored during this year’s meeting by receiving the “Sharon Maxwell Community Impact Award” and the “Bridget Murtaugh Award” for his service to the community. Christopher also joined the GCAB Charter Working Group this year to review, edit and make recommendations to the Charter that was ratified by the GCAB.
In 2022, Christopher contacted the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to distribute thousands of free N95 masks to vulnerable populations in two counties including the Western NC AIDS Project (WNCAP). “I lost my oldest brother to COIVD-19 pneumonia during the Delta wave in 2021. I’m still grieving his passing because he was three months away from retiring and looking forward to his ‘Golden Years’ that he so deservedly earned.”
Recently, Christopher distributed thousands of 988 Suicide Prevention educational materials with its hotline number to thousands of high school students.
Christopher is a fierce proponent for people living with HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, COVID-19 and other infections. He is not shy in making sure that his voice and the voices of the community are heard and that the community always has a seat at the table for engagement practices across the clinical and translational sciences spectrum. “I am looking forward to many more years of service to the communities that I interact with. I will not stop until I see a cure and vaccine for HIV. It is with confidence, faith and the remarkable advancements in HIV prevention and therapeutics that I seek to become known as the ‘UNC Chapel Hill Patient’ when I am cured in the future.”