Wanda Hernandez, Chairperson of VOCAL-NY’s Board of Directors, has been HIV-positive for more than fifteen years, a VOCAL-NY member for nearly five years and is a leading advocate for women living with HIV/AIDS in New York. During the past couple years, she has testified during City Council and state legislative briefings, participated in a special White Housing meeting on HIV/AIDS and homelessness, and has helped lead VOCAL-NY’s affordable housing campaign. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business management, she worked in various business administrative positions during her career. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in El Barrio, Wanda now lives in the Bronx. She is the proud mother of a daughter and grandson, and frequently writes poetry. She has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, including the NY Times, City Limits and many other media outlets. TheBody.com published this extensive interview with her in 2011. (Photo by Brian Palmer)
Hiawatha Collins has been a leader of VOCAL-NY’s Users Union since 2009, contributing to campaigns to pass new statewide overdose prevention and syringe access laws, strengthen patient rights in methadone programs, and improve healthcare in the NYC shelter system. He works professionally as a harm reduction educator and peer syringe exchange provider, and coordinates the NYC Peer Network. Hiawatha is a former marine, who has frequently experienced homelessness during the past decade, and has been incarcerated for drug offenses. He has been quoted in the Daily News and Buffalo News.
James Dean has been a VOCAL-NY leader since 2008, when he was residing in an emergency housing program for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. In particular, he has been in active in the affordable housing campaign to prevent homelessness for permanently disabled clients in the NYC HIV/AIDS Services Administration’s (HASA) rental assistance program, where he has been quoted in the Observer, Legislative Gazette and other outlets.
Margaret Ladner has worked served as an Afghanistan specialist at Amnesty International, Director of the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University and, most recently, as a Program Officer at American Jewish World Service. She now resides in Chicago with her partner and their son.
Wayne Starks has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s and has been a member of VOCAL-NY since 2006. He became an activist after former NY Governor Patacki introduced a policy in 2006 that would have forced thousands of low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS like him back into homelessness. Wayne himself spent many years homeless after he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS while working as a NYC bus driver. He has been active in Occupy Wall Street, National People’s Action, Right to the City and other movements for economic and racial justice. Wayne has been interviewed by the Albany Times Union, Amsterdam News, The Advocate, BBC, City & State, Huffington Post, Politico and many other outlets. He is also an artist, having been profiled in the NY Times, and a proud grandfather.
Robert “Bobby” Tolbert has been HIV-positive since 1995 and became a member of VOCAL-NY in 2005. He was formerly homeless in the NYC shelter system and has worked for much of the past decade as a peer health educator in the Bronx and Brooklyn. A long-time activist for social justice, he has led VOCAL-NY campaigns to expand syringe access, prevent overdose deaths, and hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis. As a member of an expert panel convened by the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), he helped develop the “Recommended Best Practices for Effective Syringe Exchange Programs in the United States” published in 2010 and continues to serve as an advisor to DOHMH around SEPs on a voluntary basis. He has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press, New York Daily News and Albany Times Union around his activism, and has blogged for the Huffington Post.