Africa’s Leila Lopes, recently crowned Miss Universe 2011, is a British-educated 25-year-old Angola native who says she cherishes inner strength over outer beauty. Hailing from the town of Benguela, Lopes is first woman from Angola — and only the fourth black woman — to be crowned Miss Universe. After winning the pageant, held in Brazil in September, the outspoken Lopes slammed racism and plastic surgery, telling reporters, “Any racist needs to seek help. It’s not normal in the 21st century to think in that way.”
She also pledged to expand her philanthropic missions — especially her involvement with HIV prevention, treatment, and visibility.
“I’ve worked with various social causes. I work with poor kids, I work in the fight against HIV,” she said to reporters after the competition. “I think now as Miss Universe I will be able to do much more.” Angola, specifically, needs Lopes’s help—the recently war-torn nation is very poor and antiretroviral medications are hard to come by for many.
Lopes told Time magazine she was up to the challenge: “I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family and I intend to follow these for the rest of my life.”
New York congressman Jerrold Nadler revels in being on the progressive side of history. In 1976 the New York City Democrat started a 16-year run in the state Assembly, where he became an early advocate for people with AIDS. During the height of fear and ignorance around the disease, Nadler championed a state program to fund AIDS meds and helped pass a ban on discrimination against New York’s HIVers.
After Nadler entered Congress in 1992, he fought for AIDS funding under the Ryan White CARE Act and other laws, helping to support AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and other services.
Nadler is optimistic when looking at overall HIV research and funding. Nadler recalled a point in the mid 1990s when Beltway fights often broke out over funding for government programs, a scenario not unfamiliar now. For instance, Republicans wanted to end all financing for the National Endowment for the Arts, but Democrats agreed to cut funding in the near term and gradually phase the agency out.
“I said, ‘This is a great victory!’ Everyone thought I was crazy, but a couple of years later, the Republicans were out, and, we saved the program,” Nadler says. “So after this next election, we’ll live to fight another day.”
If you raise a dollar for AIDS causes, you’re doing more than most folks. Bill Shopoff does more than that. The Irvine, Calif., businessman has raised over a quarter-million dollars for HIV services as a cyclist in AIDS/LifeCycle’s Ride to End AIDS.
Every year in the AIDS/LifeCycle, 2,350 bicyclists and 600 volunteer “roadies” complete a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the world’s most successful AIDS fund-raiser. Over the past decade the event has raised more than $80 million for the HIV/AIDS services of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation — and Shopoff has been a big part of that.
Shopoff has completed the journey six times, taking up the cause to honor the many friends he lost to AIDS. Crediting his fund-raising success to personal outreach, especially to those directly affected by the disease, Shopoff says of the LifeCycle, “There’s nothing I’ve done that’s been more rewarding.”
That’s saying a lot considering Shopoff, when he’s not cycling, is president and CEO of Shopoff Group and has more than 25 years of real estate investment experience.
A former television producer and assistant to President Gerald Ford, Mary Fisher travels the globe promoting awareness and compassion in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The daughter of a wealthy GOP power broker, Fisher made news in 1992 with a historic speech at the Republican National Convention in which she aimed “to lift the shroud of silence which has been draped over the issue of HIV/AIDS.” Of that landmark address, Norman Mailer wrote “When Mary Fisher spoke like an angel that night, the floor was in tears, and conceivably the nation as well.” HIV-positive for two decades now, the Arizona-based artist “fuses artistry to advocacy and passion to purpose” in her creation of powerful works and has tirelessly rallied people around the world with her messages of hope and urgency. She has served as an ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS as well as on the Leadership Council of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. In addition, she founded the Mary Fisher CARE (Clinical AIDS Research and Education) Fund.
When Yale University biochemistry professor Thomas Steitz first started working on the science of HIV/AIDS, he was quoted in the New England Monthly as saying, “There are a lot of people willing to work on these problems who are just sitting on their hands.” Steitz didn’t want to be one of them. In 1992 he and a team of scientists at Yale created a picture of an HIV protein, reverse transcriptase, interacting with an anti-HIV drug, a breakthrough that led to further development of such medications. And in 2000 he completed a high-resolution image of an uncharted cellular protein molecule that could assist in the creation of new antibiotics. For that discovery and others, he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2009, along with a handful of other awards and distinctions.
Today, Steitz is a professor of chemistry and the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, where he’s been on the faculty since 1970. He’s also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies and plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the U.S.
Novelist and activist Jean Redmann is known for her mystery writing and HIV work, both interests connected by the allure of New Orleans. Much of her fiction focuses on Big Easy–based private investigator Micky Knight, the protagonist of books such as Water Mark, and Redmann writes Micky’s stories when not doing her full-time work: serving as the director of prevention at NO/AIDS Task Force, a New Orleans–based AIDS awareness, prevention, and service group. The organization serves a region that desperately needs comprehensive HIV care and preventive measures, especially for high-risk groups like black adolescents and gay men. New Orleans and the state of Louisiana consistently rank high in new HIV infections each year.
The current economy leaves the organization making due with the limited resources it has. NO/AIDS receives most of its funding through federal grants — not the GOP-run state government. “Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately,” she says, “HIV programs have been flat-funded, meaning they have not been cut, but not added to either.”
The possibility of federal budget cuts does not deter Redmann: “We want our clients to receive the services they need. It doesn’t matter if we are the only ones doing the work. What matters most are the people.”