Funding Conundrum: D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Programs

Prevention Works
Prevention Works, one of D.C.'s leading needle exchange programs closed its door on due to funding delays. (Photo/Angelia Levy)

Note: Article was originally posted April 30, 2011 on American University’s

PreventionWorks!  a syringe exchange program in Washington, D.C., provided clean needles to intravenous drug users as a prophylactic measure against HIV infection for more than 12 years.

On Feb. 25, it closed its doors. It had run out of money, a casualty of apparently diminished interest in HIV/AIDS in America, according to its director of programs and services, Mary Beth Levin. “Our work, like HIV/AIDS in general, had gone from being a high priority, to low priority to no priority,” she said.

The organization started distributing free, clean needles in 1999.  It also provided free HIV testing and used a mobile unit and volunteers to distribute condoms and information about HIV awareness. “It was great way to do outreach,” she said. Intravenous drug users account for 20 percent of those infected with HIV.

HIV prevention efforts in the District receive most of their funding from community partners, such as nonprofit organizations, community programs, and local constituents, according to Michael Kharfen, bureau chief for Partnerships, Capacity Building and Community Outreach at the D.C. Department of Health.

Private donors and foundations “assumed we got a lot of government money; therefore, they didn’t need to give a lot of money,” said Levin.  According to Levin, people didn’t realize the organization “never received federal funding” until 2007 because of the federal ban that restricted use of federal funds for needle exchange programs.

Even after the ban was lifted, government funding did not trickle to the organization. “Preventing HIV in intravenous drug users is not a huge priority” when it comes to funding, said Levin.

HIV Infection in the District

HIV infection rates have risen steadily since 2004.  In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the District of Columbia had a higher rate of AIDS diagnoses than any other metropolitan area in the United States.

HIV Chart: District of Columbia’s 2009 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology ReportHIV Chart: District of Columbia’s 2009 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Report

The 2008 District of Columbia epidemiology update found that more than 3 percent of the District’s population, or 3,000 out of every 100,000, had been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.  The report stated that 21 percent of new infections came from intravenous drug use.  In an interview with NPR in March 2009, former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said D.C.’s HIV rate is “one of the worst, not only in the region or the country, but in the world.”

Funding HIV Programs

In 2009, D.C. received $54.5 million in federal funding from the Ryan White program, which raised D.C.’s total HIV budget to $88 million. The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides HIV/AIDS resources to all 50 states, including the District of Columbia.  It has a budget of $2.1 billion.

Kharfen said D.C.’s 2010 HIV/AIDS budget was approximately $85 million. Of that, $75 million came from federal funds and the other $10 million came from D.C. tax revenue. According to AIDS United, the lifetime medical cost of treating a person living with HIV/AIDS is approximately $355,000.

The District’s Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA) manages and distributes funds from the Ryan White program.  It gathers data on HIV/AIDS in the area and distributes federal money to community organizations’ HIV prevention efforts, such as free HIV testing, condom distribution, or providing HIV drugs.

Kharfen said “The majority of HIV funding is distributed to about 70 to 80 community partners,” who  provide HIV testing, education, prevention, counseling, and medication, but not harm reduction programs.  Until 2007, federal funding could not be used for a clean needle/syringe exchange program, such as PreventionWorks!, despite the high rate of HIV transmission rates due to intravenous drug use in the District.

Levin said that D.C.’s lack of statehood meant reliance on federal funding and compliance with its conditions and rules. She said D.C.’s HIV prevention programs had to “adhere to fed guidelines,” which may not address needs unique to the city.

Future of HIV Programs in the District

D.C. has encountered roadblocks in HIV prevention and education–such as five leadership turnovers in the HIV/AIDs Administration office in seven years; mismanagement of funds; and lack of program accountability.

Mayor Vincent Gray this month announced that he was putting together a 27-member Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS.  In a March press release, Gray said that “by bringing together HIV/AIDS leaders from our best medical institutions, our universities and the community, this commission will ensure that we fight HIV as One City.”

Levin questions the commission because it does not have a public health specialist to create policies that reduce harmful consequences associated with drug use. In addition, the commission does not have representation from the HIV-infected community.

Levin believes that the District has done a good job with “documentation and treatment” of HIV/AIDS in the area, but it is still playing “catch-up” when it comes to HIV prevention.

This roadtrip is almost over

I am seven weeks away from receiving my Master’s in Interactive Journalism (IJ) from American University. It has been a long and tiring 19 months, but I do not regret any of it, especially since American has become a “center for new journalism.” I have had great classes and not-so-great classes. I had courses that I  enjoyed immensely; taught by professors that I found enlightening. On the opposite end, a couple of my courses were downright aggravating with less than stellar professors. When I entered the IJ program I had a general knowledge/base of what constitutes digital and print journalism, but I wanted to learn more. As the last few weeks of grad school draws to a close I can safely say that I not only ‘know’ but ‘understand.’ There is a difference between the two words that many fail to grasp; knowing is not understanding. My favorite quote is by Hippocrates which sums things up succinctly “To know is science, to think you know is ignorance.” Amen.

Grant Memorial: The ‘Ugly Betty’ of U.S. Presidential Monuments

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Updated November 17, 2017

Vietnam Memorial. Arlington Cemetery. Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument. Jefferson Memorial.  When standing in front these memorials, visitors experience a range of emotions. Awe. Hurt. Sadness. Respect.

The United States National Parks Services (NPS) the government bureau responsible for the maintenance of these memorials, wants visitors to notice and feel the beauty of these memorials – not any aesthetic bruises that would detract from the experience.

However, not every Washington, D.C. memorial is viewed with excitement and reverence by its visitors.

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is classified as a presidential memorial, like the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR, but in terms of recognition it is the poor stepchild of local memorials.

Visitors congregate in front of the memorial on a daily basis, but have no knowledge of Grant or his history. Dennis Montagna, Director of National Park Services’ Monument Research and Preservation Program said that it is a “very anonymous memorial” whose site is mainly used as a place for high school classes to get their picture taken because the U.S. Capitol building is right behind it. Kirk Savage, author of Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape said that “it’s amazing how little is known” about the memorial or the man.

The Grant Memorial is located at between Pennsylvania and Maryland Ave, near the west side of the U.S. Capitol Building. It was dedicated in 1921 in honor of Ulysses S. Grant the 18th president of the United States. It is one of twenty-seven presidential memorials in the United States. It is also the first memorial to be constructed on the National Mall.

Unlike other presidential memorials such as the Lincoln or the Jefferson, Grant’s statue was not in honor of his presidential legacy.  Unfortunately, President Grant’s administration from 1869 to 1877 was full of governmental mischief from start to finish. Staff members resigned over a host of scandals such as bribery, extortion, financial kickbacks, embezzlement and causing the gold market to crash.

Grant the President

Grant had a bad habit of hiring the wrong people. He also had an even worse habit of remaining loyal to these malcontents who were steadfastly throwing his presidential administration under the bus, to use a current vernacular.

Grant’s presidency did have some accomplishments such as the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that allowed African-American males over the age of twenty-one the right to vote, the 1875 Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination and segregation against African-Americans in public settings, his “Peace Policy” for Native Americans and establishment of the U.S. Department of Justice. However, it’s hard to point to your triumphs when your failures are more pronounced and politically salacious.

President Ulysses S. Grant (Photo/
President Ulysses S. Grant (Photo/

After his presidency Grant tried to settle back into a normal life, but it was hard due to financial missteps on his part.  However, Grant used this time to write his memoirs, which provided the public with its first insight into the presidency. When he died of throat cancer in 1885 over one million people gathered in New York City to watch Grant’s funeral procession and burial ceremonies.

According to Joan Waugh, author of Pageantry of Woe: The Funeral of Ulysses S. Grant, Grant’s funeral was a “spectacle, replete with religious, patriotic, and nationalistic imagery and rhetoric” and that across the country thousands of eulogies and obituaries for Grant “stressed his Christian moral character” and military role in “preserving the Union.” Not much was said about his presidency, which was to be expected.

In the years after his presidency there was a movement to honor Grant with a statue in honor of his work for his country. Though his presidency practically drowned in scandal, Grant’s reputation was saved by one major historical fact. Prior to his presidency, Grant was the magnificent general who led the Union Army to victory against the Confederates in the American Civil War. Grant supporters’ arguments carried the day and the Grant Memorial was built after his death, just like all the other presidential memorials.

Yet the Grant Memorial is not like other presidential memorials. What makes it different is that it is a military memorial that honors a former president.

The Making of the Memorial

The Grant Memorial was made using bronze for the statues and white marble for the platforms. Sculptor Henry Shrady took over twenty years to finish it and died before the dedication ceremonies. Montagna said that Shrady never got a chance to “bask in the glow of adulation regarding the memorial.”

Shrady designed the Grant Memorial to include three sections consisting of Grant in the middle with images of a cavalry charge and an artillery unit on his left and right of Grant statue.

Ulysses S. Grant - Grant Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo/Nathan Culpepper)
Ulysses S. Grant – Grant Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo/Nathan Culpepper)

The largest section of the memorial statue at over seventeen feet is Grant posed on a horse with his sword sticking high in the air. The statue exudes strength of character and decisiveness, personality traits that probably served him well during the Civil War.  Savage said that Grant “looms above in majestic isolation” over his troops “in his own world, separated from the ordinary soldier. Montagna said that Grant looks “cool and unflappable while all hell is breaking loose around him.”

The ‘hell’ that Montagna is referring to is reflected in the faces of the artillery unit and cavalry charge statues that are next to Grant. These statues show a different side of war.

In the artillery group the men are readying for battle with their faces set in determination for the inevitable with their howitzer in tow. The leader of the artillery looks as if he was caught giving an order in mid-sentence. The horses are charging full steam ahead, necks arched almost prancing while they churn up water and mud as their hooves try to find traction in the land.

As for the cavalry group their determination has given way to fear and pain. The men are huddled together fighting off the cold as their cart takes them to another battle. A horse has lost his footing and is falling down. Unfortunately it has taken a soldier with him who most uncertainly will be trampled to death. The soldier’s face is crying out but no one seems to hear him. Savage said that if you didn’t know any better you would think that it’s an “anti-war” memorial.

The Grant Memorial was highly praised upon its dedication. It also was seen as a first step in the revitalization of Union Square, what is now the National Mall.  The goal (McMillan Plan), according to the Commission on the Arts (commonly known as the McMillan Commission) at the time was to have more gardens and parks surrounding the memorial. Instead something called the Lincoln Memorial, built to honor the sixteenth president was dedicated in May 1922, one month after the Grant Memorial dedication. Just like that – the dwarfing of the Grant Memorial had begun.

As more memorials and a reflecting pool popped up along the National Mall the view of the Grant Memorial became more obscure. Others such as Grant historian James Goode and the Washington Post’s Paul Richard have championed the Grant Memorial to raise its recognition, but not too much avail. Too add insult to injury the memorial was also getting worked over by the elements.

Rain and snow created a type of rust that coated the pristine bronze statues of Grant Memorial with a green-like coating that oozed its way down onto the marble. The marble platforms and ballasts have cracks and missing pieces. Not much was done about it until the 1980s when the National Parks Services began cleaning and waxing it again.

Catherine Dewey, Architectural Conservator at the National Park Service said in an “ideal world” the memorial would be cleaned at least once a year. However, she said that the cleaning of monuments and memorials are “partially based on need” and the “higher profile” of the monument.

“Sometimes it’s hard to pick and choose which memorials and monuments deserve funds and which will have to wait a while.” said Montagna.

Dewey said that the National Park Service is seeking funds for the restoration of the Grant in the next few years. In the interim, since the Grant Memorial is not the Lincoln, the Vietnam or the Jefferson it has to wait for its turn in the cleaning rotation.

It is highly unlikely that the Grant Memorial will ever see the number of visitors as the Lincoln or the Jefferson. Savage said the area around the memorial is not set-up for visitors, with the reflecting pool blocking access to the memorial. Plus he said “it’s Grant – not Lincoln” and that “each has a much different place in our memory.”

Yet there are people out there who think that the Grant Memorial still has a shot at recognition. Savage said that the memorial needs to be “interpreted for contemporary use” with kiosks, podcasts or audio and “create a whole new physical circulation to the Mall area” to include the Grant memorial in its foot traffic. Or maybe the memorial should be rebranded as a statue-like movie as described by Richards “offering horses at full gallop drama, ceaseless action, bugle calls, grunts and screams.” Also, Grant has become pretty popular in the publishing industry, with some authors saying that his presidency wasn’t all that bad. But is that enough?

Maybe the Grant Memorial one day will get the recognition its supporters thinks it deserves. But as long as it is staring across the Lincoln Memorial that recognition will always be hard to find.

But hope springs eternal.


Grant Memorial gets a facelift as story of its tormented sculptor is retold (Washington Post, 8/27/2015)

Crappy Headphones and Riding the Metro

Since I live in the Greater DC Metro area I ride the metro (aka subway to those outside the area) to/from work several times a week. For the most part the train rides aren’t that bad compared to other subway systems in the United States such as Chicago’s which is absolutely atrocious. Anyway, I digress. The one thing that really bugs me about the DC metro are riders who have subpar quality headphones hooked up to their music player. Their headphones are so fucking shitty that you can hear every note and lyric as if you were wearing the headphones as well. Obviously if their music is up this loud this  means that their headphones are a piece of shit, yet the wearer doesn’t seem to know this which is why they compensate by having the volume at maximum setting. What’s so funny is that I’ve noticed that most of these bad headphone perpetrators are Black females under 30. What’s up with that? Yes, I said it and I’m Black so sue me. Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out this interesting anecdotal statistic, but to no avail. What is so terrible about this situation is that good headphones don’t really cost that much. My Sony headphones cost me less than $20 and I can blast away my music sitting next to someone without destroying their metro equilibrium. Don’t tell me that all these crappy headphone wearers don’t have the money since their music system is hooked up to their smartphone which they use to text message and have moronic conversations with their idiotic phonemates ad nauseum. I have seriously thought about contacting Sony to let them know that they have a good marketing campaign right at their fingertips. They should have reps going up and down the train with a camera looking for people in need of quality headphone intervention. They should go up to these fools while on camera and let them know that Sony is there to help them break the cycle. Well, since that is not going to happen I think that these riders should simply be kicked to the curb or maybe just punched in the face.