Photo credit: Omar Ramos

The Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network (SBPAN) founder Venton Jones is working to address the gap in treatment for the southern Black community. 

Founded in 2018, SBPAN was created by chief executive officer Venton Jones to focus on improving the health, social and economic disparities impacting the southern Black community. Jones started out working in public health where he worked and found that while there was no problem finding Black leadership in public health services, there continued to be an issue with getting communities to understand how they can impact policy (specifically, health care public policy). SBPAN was then created, honing in on four areas to address public health policies (training, education, advocacy and mobilization) in the southern Black community, with a focus on training people who plan to work in public health. 

“Primarily, our work has been how do we work to train those working in public health or those interested in impacting public health,” Jones said. “How do we train them to be more impactful? To be able to work with public health departments.” 

An early product of the advocacy aspect of their work was their HIV/AIDS assessment. Funded in late 2018 by the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and Southern AIDS, they began implementing work and research in 2019, and it was launched in 2020. Jones stated the assessment is one of the first to offer a testimonial for the southern Black community.

“It’s one of the first of its kind to have a focus on the south and really have data [state data, HIV data] for Black communities in one place for someone to be able to reference,” he said. 

Their HIV/AIDS research focuses on the four pillars of EHE [Ending the HIV Epidemic], which are to get diagnosed as early as possible [pillar 1], treat people with HIV rapidly and effectively to reach sustained viral suppression [pillar 2], preventing new transmissions using interventions like pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and syringe service programs (SSPs) [pillar 3] and responding quickly to HIV outbreaks [pillar 4]. Jones stated, however, that the pillars themselves are not where the answers lie. 

“I honestly think that we have some key pillars we have to address in HIV work but those solutions just can’t be rooted in those pillars,” he said. “It has to be what I’ve called the ‘pillars plus conversation,’ because those pillars are absolutely critical in how we frame the conversation [about HIV prevention, treatment, maintenance of oppression, etc].”  

As for their 2022 plans, he stated that SBPAN will continue to mobilize communities to get them involved in their plans to end HIV by 2030. SBPAN is also focusing on increasing their staff.  

“We are also focused on just continuing to get this piece [the network] under development so that we can not only just hire staff, but have the ability to hire a well-compensated staff so that we can be competitive as an organization to get these individuals and these thought leaders that are going to help drive these conversations home,” he said.

Update: On Dec. 1, Jones announced his campaign for the House District 100 seat in the March Democratic primary race. He stated that, if elected, he plans to tackle the deficient healthcare provided in the district and its impacts.

“I grew up, live and operate a non-profit all within the district,” Jones said in his press release. “I see everyday how the lack of adequate healthcare leads to the economic disparity of Black and Hispanic communities and if elected, I look forward to leading the effort to change that.”