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District of Columbia

Real life drama unfolds at Int’l Overdose Awareness Day event in D.C. park

HIPS staffers render aid to unconscious man on sidewalk



HIPS, the D.C. based harm reduction organization that provides services to drug users and sex workers, was the lead organizer of the Overdose Awareness Day event and among the groups that set up information tables. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Many of the close to 200 people that turned out on Thursday, Aug. 31, for an International Overdose Awareness Day event at a small park in Northeast D.C. known as Starburst Plaza witnessed officials with the local harm reduction services group HIPS rush to the aid of a man who lost consciousness.

One of the HIPS staffers rendered aid before D.C. Emergency Medical Services Department technicians arrived on a fire truck. The EMS technicians provided further treatment to the man, including placing an oxygen mask on his face, that resulted in his regaining consciousness.

He was taken to a hospital by an ambulance that arrived on the scene a short time later.

A man lost consciousness in what appeared to be an opioid overdose at a D.C. International Overdose Awareness Day event. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

HIPS, whose offices and drop-in center are located a few blocks away from where the event took place, was one of its lead organizers. HIPS and about a half dozen other community-based organizations that provide services for drug users and sex workers set up tables and handed out literature on the sidewalk at the site of Starburst Plaza.

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, who works for HIPS, said members of the LGBTQ community, including transgender women of color, have been among those who have lost their lives to opioid overdoses. Budd pointed to large photos displayed at the event of three trans women who died from an opioid overdose within the past year.

“Lives of members of our community are being lost in what is truly an epidemic, and we can no longer ignore this,” Budd said.

Also participating in the event was Devon Trotter, who serves as chair of the HIPS board of directors.

“We hope that today just brings awareness to the epidemic that we have here in this country and in our community – the opioid epidemic,” Trotter said. “We know that drug use isn’t going to stop,” he told the Washington Blade.

“So, we need to ensure that folks get access to support and resources to use their drugs safely, to be able to know what’s in them without fear for their lives,” he said. “A day like today is also important because it brings awareness to those who we have lost and those who are struggling,” said Trotter.

Among the other organizations that collaborated with HIPS and set up tables at the event to distribute literature about opioid overdose prevention were Whitman-Walker Health; the emergency services organization Forensic Nurse Examiners; the drug user support group Revise, Inc.; and the advocacy and support coalition Decrim Poverty D.C.

Also attending the event were members of the D.C. police department’s LGBT Liaison Unit.
L.J. Sislen, one of the officials with Decrim Poverty D.C., said the coalition advocates for support services for drug users and for decriminalization of drug use and possession.

“You can’t get well in a cell,” she said, referring to the frequent arrest and incarceration of people experiencing addiction on charges of illegal drug possession. “We believe that eliminating criminal penalties for drug use is one of the most effective ways for us to address the worsening drug overdose crisis,” Sislen said.

Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said the man treated and placed in the ambulance at the D.C. Overdose Awareness Day event was listed as being in “potentially serious condition.”

But he said under city privacy laws, he is unable to provide further details of the man’s condition or to disclose which hospital he was taken to. Maggiolo said that all firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians and can provide the same emergency treatment to someone suffering from an illness or other emergency medical condition as the medical technicians assigned to an ambulance.

In a related development, the White House and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra released statements commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day and announced additional federal funding for programs that address opioid addiction and overdose prevention.

“Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, the Biden-Harris administration is recognizing all those who have lost someone to an overdose,” the White House statement says. “President Biden declared August 27 through September 2 as Overdose Awareness Week to focus the nation’s attention on the devastation caused by illicit fentanyl and other drugs,” says the statement.

“During this week of recognition, we reaffirm our commitment to beating this epidemic – in memory of those we have lost and to protect the lives we can save,” the statement says.

In the separate HHS statement, Becerra outlined recently implemented programs of the Biden administration and HHS that allocate more than $450 million to support the administration’s Unity Agenda efforts to address the overdose problem.

“Drug overdose does not discriminate – rich or poor, Black or white, urban or suburban, drug overdoses reach every corner of our society,” Becerra said. “On this Overdose Awareness Day, we reflect on the toll that substance misuse takes, both in terms of lives lost and immeasurable pain it brings to families and communities,” he said.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that a HIPS staffer administered Narcan to the unconscious man. A HIPS spokesperson later told the Blade that Narcan was not administered.)

Nine-year-old Bronx Cousar, who serves as a volunteer trainer for children and adults on how to help people experiencing an opioid overdose, holds a box of life-saving Narcan Nasal Spray at a table set up by the overdose prevention group Revise, Inc., which is led by his mother, Lamonica Jeffrey, who is embracing him. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

District of Columbia

Anacostia group honors LGBTQ advocate Pannell for 30 years of service

Oct. 5 celebration set for Ward 8 Sycamore & Oak retail village



Phillip Pannell (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), an advocacy organization for D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and surrounding areas east of the Anacostia River, is holding a celebration honoring LGBTQ rights and Anacostia community activist Phillip Pannell for his 30 years of service with the ACC.

The event was scheduled to take place from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5, at the recently opened Sycamore & Oak retail village mall on the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus in Southeast D.C.

Pannell, 73, serves as the ACC executive director, a position he has held since 1995. He has been a member of the Anacostia-based nonprofit organization’s staff since 1993.
A longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, Pannell has been credited with persuading many of D.C.’s LGBTQ organizations to reach out to LGBTQ residents who live in Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River.

He has also been credited with persuading African-American organizations, including organizers of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebrations, to include and welcome LGBTQ people to their events.

“Join us for an evening of food, fun, and surprises,” an announcement of the event released by the ACC says.

ACC spokesperson Lamont Mitchell told the Washington Blade several community leaders and public officials who have known Pannell during his many years of D.C. community involvement were expected to speak at the Oct. 5 celebration. Among the expected speakers, Mitchell said, was former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt.

According to the announcement, the event is free and open to the public, but organizers requested that people register in advance at

The ACC event honoring Pannell was to take place about a month after the D.C. newspaper Washington Informer published a detailed article profiling Pannell’s career as a community activist and advocate for several important local causes and issues, including D.C. statehood.

“D.C. statehood is not just a political issue, it is also a civil and human rights issue because if D.C. were a state, we would be a state with the highest percentage of African Americans, basically a majority, minority state,” the Informer quoted Pannell as saying. “That’s one of the reasons a lot of right-wing Republicans don’t want to see D.C. become a state because we are going to elect progressive, Black Democratic senators,” Pannell told the Informer.

A statement on the ACC’s website says Pannell has received more than 100 awards during his nearly four decades of work in D.C., including the 2011 U.S. President’s Call to Service Award and the 2012 D.C. Federation of Civic Associations award for Outstanding President of a Member Association.

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District of Columbia

Pepco, Exelon announce $2.7 million in funding for four minority-owned businesses

‘It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table’



Pepco and Exelon held a press conference Friday to announce four recipients of $2.7 million in investments. (Photo courtesy Exelon)

Pepco and Exelon announced a $2.7 million investment in four minority-owned businesses on Friday.

“Today’s been a long time coming,” said Pepco Vice President of Governmental and External Affairs Valencia McClure.

Pepco’s parent company, Exelon, launched the Racial Equity Capital Fund (RECF) in 2022 to expand capital access to diverse businesses. This latest $2.7 million investment is just a portion of RECF’s $36 million in funding.

At the announcement, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser spoke about the other ways Pepco and Exelon have “put their money where their mouth is” through their partnership with the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. She reported that all 22 of the residents that graduated from the program last week have a job offer from Pepco.

“We know that is not just a job, but a career,” she said to the crowd’s applause. “We know that working together, we can invest in D.C. residents, provide opportunity, and ensure that our D.C. businesses are a part of D.C.’s growing prosperity.”

The four minority businesses that received funding were Gemini Energy Solutions, Public Sector Solutions Group, CJR Development Partners, and Escalate.

“It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table,” said fund recipient Nicole Cober, CJR Development’s Principle Managing Partner.

Gemini Energy Solutions, which is Black owned, received $1 million, the most of the four companies. Its mission is to equitably scale energy efficiency to marginalized communities. For the founder and CEO Anthony Kinslow II, this investment means that he is able to get paid and advance the work of his organization.

“We are now able to accelerate the work in our software and technology development,” he said. “What we were going to do in two years, we are now going to do in six months.”

For Escalate, a workforce development platform focused on frontline worker retention, the funding means that it will be able to double the pay for frontline workers.

Public Sector Solutions Group CEO Darryl Wiggins emphasized that this investment was not just ‘charity’ work, but mission-driven work.

“The principle and the intent is greater than the money we receive,” he said. Public Sector Solutions is Black owned.

Public Sector Solutions Group received a $600,000 debt investment; CJR Development, a minority and woman-owned small business, received a $600,000 debt investment; and Escalate, a majority Black and woman-owned company, received a $500,000 equity investment.

Exelon launched the RECF in partnership with RockCreek, one of the world’s largest diverse-owned global investment firms, in 2022. The RECF expands capital access to diverse businesses so they can create more jobs, grow their companies and reinvest in their neighborhoods and communities, according to a statement from Exelon.

New RECF applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Interested businesses may apply online or contact RockCreek at [email protected] for more information.

(Photo courtesy Exelon)
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District of Columbia

AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrates opening of new D.C. healthcare center

Ribbon-cutting marks launch of state-of-the-art facility on Capitol Hill



AHF’s new healthcare center is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS healthcare organization with its headquarters in Los Angeles, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 27 to mark the official opening of its Capitol Hill Healthcare Center.

The new center, which AHF describes as a state-of-the-art facility for the holistic care and treatment of people with HIV as well as a site for HIV prevention and primary care services, is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.  a half block away from the Eastern Market Metro station.

A statement released by AHF says the Capitol Hill Healthcare Center will continue AHF’s ongoing delivery of “cutting-edge medical care and services to patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.” The statement adds, “The site also features a full-service AHF Pharmacy and will host Wellness Center services on Saturdays to offer STI testing and treatment.”

The statement was referring to the testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The D.C. Department of Health has said the highest number of STIs in the city have been reported for men who have sex with men.

Mike McVicker, AHF’s Regional Director for its D.C., Maryland, and Virginia facilities, said the Capitol Hill center began taking patients in October of 2021 as AHF transferred its operations from its facility on Benning Road, N.E. about two miles from the Capitol Hill site. McVicker said the Benning Road site has now been closed.

AHF’s second D.C. medical center is located downtown at 2141 K St., N.W. AHF operates three other extended D.C.-area health care centers in Falls Church, Va., Temple Hills, Md. and Baltimore.

“Our Capitol Hill Healthcare Center has no waiting room, so patients immediately are escorted to treatment rooms and serviced from a centrally located provider workstation,” McVicker said. “The goal is to maximize efficiency using this patient-centered model to improve health outcomes and increase retention in care.”

McVicker told the Blade the AHF Capitol Hill center is currently serving 585 patients and has a staff of 10, including Dr. Conor Grey, who serves as medical director. He said a separate team of five staffers operates the Saturday walk-in center that provides STI services as well as services related to the HIV prevention medication known as PrEP.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this team,” Dr. Grey said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was held in a courtyard outside the Capitol Hill office building where the AHF center is located. About 50 people, including D.C. government officials, attended the event.

“This is a beautiful thing to celebrate,” Grey said. “So, I’m very happy to enjoy the day with all of you, and looking forward to a bright, productive future working together and fighting a common enemy that has unfortunately been with us.”

Others who spoke at the event included Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel; Toni Flemming, Supervisory Public Health Analyst and Field Operations Manager for the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), and Dr. Christie Olejeme, Public Health Analyst for HAHSTA’s Care and Treatment Division.

Also speaking at the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Bowles called the AHF Capitol Hill center “another pivotal resource” for the LGBTQ community as well as for the city.

“We know, as has been previously stated, a low-barrier HIV prevention support is pivotal to the mayor’s mission of eliminating HIV infections in the District of Columbia and the region,” Bowles told the gathering.

“So, I’m very excited to see more services specifically provided to those in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants of our District,” he said, referring to the AHF Capitol Hill center. “This is a great moment for our community, but also for D.C. as a whole.”

In its statement released this week announcing the official opening of the Capitol Hill Center AHF notes that currently, 11,904 D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, are living with HIV. It points out that HIV disproportionately impacts Black residents, who make up about 44 percent of the population but comprise nearly three-quarters of the city’s HIV cases.

AHF official Myers said the Capitol Hill center will join its other D.C.-area facilities in addressing the issue of racial disparities related to HIV.

“Our treatment model helps eliminate barriers for those already in care, those who may not know their HIV status, and those living with HIV who may not currently be in care,” he said.

AHF says in its statement that it currently operates more than 900 healthcare centers around the world in 45 countries including 17 U.S. states. It has more than 1.7 million people in care, according to the statement. Founded in 1987, the organization has also taken on the role of public advocacy for federal and local government programs in the U.S. to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including efforts to lower the costs of HIV drugs.

During its work in the late 1980s and early 1990s AHF emerged as a strong advocate for addressing the special needs of gay and bisexual men who were hit hardest by HIV/AIDS at the start of the epidemic.

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