From the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) has been there connecting the community to the resources it needs. Now, Derrick Brown, the new chief development officer for the organization, will be connecting AFH to the resources it needs in return.
“Development is more than fundraising. It is about engagement with the community and the donors. It is about diving deeper than a checkbook,” says Brown of his philosophy on connecting with donors.
Brown grew up in Houston’s Alief area, where he demonstrated an early knack for breaking through barriers at a time when others might have been afraid to. He married his husband, Dan Ritchel, in 2010.
The 47-year-old came out when he was 16—an unusually young age back in the late ’80s. He was a trailblazer as the first male cheerleader at Alief High School, where he developed an appreciation for volunteerism that led to an early connection with AFH.
“I was out at 16, and I started volunteering with organizations that served those in the community living with AIDS and HIV. I would help by spending time reading to them, helping with their grocery shopping, and things like that. I have always been tied to this mission, but not professionally until recently,” says Brown.
A Career On the Move
Brown’s relationship and career have taken him all over the country. After graduating from UH with a degree in psychology and a minor in marketing, Brown moved to Dallas, where he lived for 13 years. He earned his master’s degree in human resources from the University of Phoenix, where he eventually became an HR director for Clear Channel. It was in that role that he met David Cradick, aka Kid Kraddick, one of the most popular radio hosts at the time. Cradick eventually developed a foundation called Kidd’s Kids, whose mission was to give terminally ill children and their families the opportunity to travel to places like SeaWorld and Disney World.
“I helped grow [the foundation] from one city to a national organization while I was there,” recalls Brown. “When Dan’s job moved us to New York City in 2012, I started my own consulting firm and continued to do work for the foundation before being approached by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to open up their New York office.”
Brown was successful in building the Chamber’s New York branch into a 400-member organization. After three years, Brown and his husband moved to Philadelphia, where he began working with another client, Freedom for All Americans, a national organization focused on achieving non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all fifty states.
In the fall of 2017, Brown, his husband, and their dogs came back to Houston, where Ritchel has since retired. Brown did work for the American Red Cross of the Gulf Coast Region, and served as the interim development officer for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, branch. This is where he met AFH’s new CEO, John Huckaby. When Huckaby took the helm at AFH, he asked Brown to join him—and the rest is history.
Reconnecting with the Community
“I have been in the LGBTQ space for most of my life and career, but usually as it relates to the business community. This work with AFH is the first time I get to work with the community side, and that really excites me,” says Brown.
Although the fight to end HIV/AIDS has made some tremendous progress recently, Brown still sees a lot of opportunities.
“We are focused on launching programs that will help connect the community with the services they need. For instance, Mistr is a new program that we launched in December that allows people to get access to PrEP and have it delivered to their home for free,” says Brown.
AFH is also focused on eliminating the stigma of HIV through education about U=U (Undetectable Equals Untransmittable) and by connecting people living with HIV and AIDS to treatment. The hope is that a focus on prevention, adherence to treatment, and education will allow more people to live a healthier life and enjoy a healthier sex life.
For people who want to connect with AFH—either to volunteer, donate, or both—there is information online at aidshelp.org. Donations that are designated for specific programming will be used accordingly, but Brown also encourages people to support AFH’s general operations, which often cannot be funded through federal grants.
“There are so many programs that we would be able to provide that often cannot be paid for by other larger funding sources. Housing programs and different types of therapy are often in need of resources,” Brown notes.
In the meantime, Brown will focus on developing AFH so the organization can focus on helping the Houston community in its fight against HIV/AIDS.
This article appears in the February 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.