On December 2, AIDS Foundation Houston will hold their annual luncheon in The Ballroom at Bayou Place to commemorate their 40 years of fearless, trailblazing service in the battle to end HIV/AIDS. Luncheon attendees can expect to hobnob with well-known local leaders and favorite personalities. Houston Public Media’s Ernie Manouse will MC, and the event’s special guest will be countertenor John Holiday, one of the opera world’s rising stars. Holiday’s vocal style bridges many genres and has been called “a thing of astonishing beauty” by The New Yorker.
Michael Mizwa, this year’s honoree for the event, was a natural choice. The dedicated Houstonian arrived at AFH in 1988, and spent the next 17 years in various leadership roles— outreach coordinator, director of education, vice president of community affairs and, ultimately, chief executive officer.
In 2004, Mizwa joined Baylor College of Medicine to create the BCM International Pediatric AIDS initiative and its affiliated network of children’s clinics. In 2015, he became the Texas Children’s Hospital director of global health, further expanding the scope of available resources to address pediatric AIDS worldwide.
“In 2004, when we entered Botswana, we found a country about the size of Texas with 40 percent of its population infected with HIV. This year, we have eliminated any transmissions from mother to child. It has nearly disappeared in pediatrics now,” Mizwa says.
One of this year’s luncheon co-chairs was AFH’s chief executive officer for eight years prior to Mizwa. Often described as a “blazing ray of sunshine,” Sara Speer Selber joined AFH as CEO in 1993, when the agency had a $1 million operating budget with a deficit of $300,000. Seven years later, AFH operated on an annual budget of $6 million, with a $1 million cash reserve and $6 million in real-estate assets. Still, Selber is quick to credit Miswa with AFH’s record of success.
“Mike is the reason we were able to meet so many of our objectives,” she notes. “He provided us with leadership and vision at every step of the way. Because he is the honoree this year, the luncheon is a sort of reunion for us. Many people from the early days of AFH are coming back to Houston to attend.”
AIDS Foundation Houston, Inc. was founded as a nonprofit in 1982, the same year that the virus was officially identified. It was the first AIDS service organization in Texas, and remains a national leader to this day. The agency’s goal is to create a community where HIV is stigma-free and rare, and people have equitable access to care.
The AFH luncheon is a natural complement to World AIDS Day on December 1, the official day of commemoration dedicated to the 25 million people who have been lost to the disease. The day is a reminder that the fight is not over, even though great strides have been made.
Young Houstonians sometimes comment, “We’ve made great headway eliminating AIDS, so what’s the point of dredging up pain with an official day? Is AIDS even still a thing?”
Yes, it’s still “a thing.” Houston ranks 11th in the nation for new HIV transmissions nationally, and more than a quarter of those patients will present with AIDS. Today, about 29,640 citizens are living with HIV in the greater Houston area.
Mizwa has a simple message for those young people who dismiss the threat of AIDS. “No matter which sexually transmitted disease we are addressing—gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, or HIV—I have had the same message for 30 years: ‘Latex is your friend,’” he says, referring to the need for condoms and safe-sex practices.
“AIDS is indeed still a thing,” emphasizes John Huckaby, AFH’s current chief executive officer. “One out of four new cases that we see are in youth from 13 to 24 years of age. We are addressing this through outreach and social media to help young people get the message.”
Huckaby’s commitment to AFH’s mission is striking. “Our logo has a flame burning in it because a flame requires energy, action, and produces light—some of the same elements we need to achieve our objectives at AFH. We have always been, and remain, a beacon of hope. And we are here until it’s over,” he concludes.
What: AIDS Foundation Houston’s World AIDS Day Houston Luncheon