As the conversation surrounding HIV/AIDS has evolved over time, so too have the organizations behind all of the work being done to end the epidemic. Such is the case for AIDS Foundation Houston, which recently announced that they changed their name to Allies in Hope on May 22.
The new name is meant to inspire inclusion and connect with a larger subset of the community. Jeffrey Campbell, who became the first Black CEO of the organization in March, sees the rebrand as an opportunity to serve more Houstonians who would benefit from the nonprofit’s services. “My hope is that our light will shine brighter, and that our reach will be extended. We are moving away from this name that was stigmatizing to many, and I get it,” he says.
“Our organization started in the 1980s as the Kaposi Sarcoma (KS) Committee of Houston. This was the founding name that was created by MD Anderson employees who were seeing this type of rare cancer among young gay men who were otherwise healthy,” Campbell explains. “In 1984, the name was changed to KS AIDS Foundation. The term ‘AIDS’ replaced the term ‘GRID,’ or Gay Related Infectious Disease, as the syndrome of symptoms and opportunistic infections. The word ‘Foundation’ was more than likely added to indicate that the agency was no longer just a committee.” Eventually, the KS was dropped and ‘AIDS Foundation Houston’ (AFH) was adopted. “This was at a time when HIV and AIDS were so closely linked, and opportunistic infections other than KS were being identified.”
When Campbell arrived at AFH in 2019 to serve as the chief program officer, he recalls having some early conversations about the name change. “I came into this organization as a person who had been working in this field for 20-plus years, and had seen us move from a place where we were just trying to keep persons living with HIV healthy to a place where we were talking about longevity. We were also understanding that an HIV diagnosis was not going to inevitably lead to an AIDS diagnosis. Also, even the medical and science community was no longer using the term ‘AIDS.’ The term is stigmatizing, and has really caused people to shy away from services, whether it’s testing or care or housing.”
“In 2021, we began to put some real efforts behind the name change. We brought on a marketing firm, Gilbreath Communications, in 2022 to help us with the process,” Campbell says. “Gilbreth conducted focus groups with community partners, AFH staff, and even with our board. There was a lot of research that was done to determine that there needed to be a name change.”
Multiple factors went into the conclusion that a new name was needed to reflect the fresh messaging direction of the organization. “We’ve outgrown the name, and it’s tied to a significant amount of stigma. The other thing that I don’t know if people recognize is that we’re not a foundation. A foundation gives out money. We, as a nonprofit, have to do fundraising and grants and so forth to run this organization. We needed to get that word out of the name.”
Campbell points to the power of education as he reflects on the challenge of convincing those stakeholders who clung to the name. “In the conversations regarding the name, not everybody was convinced. But as the conversations rolled on and information was provided, people began to see the need.”
The rebrand was rooted in creating a more inclusive nonprofit organization and representing the catalog of services it provided. “We once had a person experiencing homelessness that [refused to accept] AIDS Foundation Houston services because of the stigma attached to the name,” Campbell says. “The other thing is that we don’t just serve people living with HIV. We serve people who have food insecurity, those who are experiencing homelessness, and those not living with HIV but fit into another criteria of one of our housing programs. On the prevention side, we are constantly providing testing opportunities. The work that we do still centers around ending the HIV epidemic. A part of that includes keeping individuals who are HIV-negative in the space of living as an HIV-negative individual.”
Ultimately, thanks to the experts at Gilbreath Communications and input from stakeholders, a new name was decided upon. “As of May 22, we are Allies in Hope. On that day, the website changed, as did our social-media pages, our email addresses, and our logo. We have a great new logo that I love,” Campbell adds. “Our staff, board, volunteers, and even our donors are considered allies, and we’re going to be rolling out a social-media campaign called ‘We Are Your Allies’ that will be attached to [publicizing our new name]. We stand with, and in support of, individuals who are vulnerable to the acquisition of HIV and those who are living with HIV. Everybody who is vulnerable to the acquisition of HIV or living with HIV doesn’t have the same needs, so as an allied organization and as individual allies, we want to stand in that space and let our community know that we’re in this together.
“I’ve gotten messages from people who were around years ago who are questioning why we are doing this. I’ve shared that HIV is not what it was 40 years ago, and as such, this organization should not be the same,.” Campbell concludes. “We should be doing things differently, even though we are maintaining the mission. Moving forward, we will shine brighter and be able to expand our reach and the impact that we have.”